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Twins notebook, 7/16

July 16, 2011 Comments off

Gardenhire falls ill, leaves game early

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire left Saturday’s game early due to illness, leaving the managerial duties to bench coach Scott Ullger.Gardenhire mentioned before the game that he had been dealing with a viral infection in his esophagus, and that he had spent portions of Friday night’s game in the clubhouse.

Ullger expected the skipper to be back on Sunday after getting some rest.

Nathan replaces Capps as Twins’ closer

MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Nathan is once again the Twins’ closer.

After watching Matt Capps blow his seventh save of the season Friday night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson decided to make the change.

“To be back in this role is good,” Nathan said. “It’s where I want to be.”

Nathan converted on his first opportunity, tossing a scoreless ninth in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Royals for his first save since April 8.

Nathan opened the season as the closer, recording saves in each of his first three chances. But after blowing two saves in April against the Rays, the former All-Star relinquished the role.

Capps took over from there, recording 15 saves in 22 chances.

In each of his last four appearances at home, Capps has struggled, blowing two saves and being pulled from two other games before he could do so. While he was not necessarily surprised by the move, Capps admitted he was not happy with being demoted.

“Disappointed is a very good way to put it,” Capps said. “But it is what it is. That’s about all I’m going to say, I guess.”

Gardenhire said Capps would be used in the eighth inning as a setup man for Nathan.

If Nathan is unavailable to close a game, Gardenhire said lefty Glen Perkins could see some chances as well, but Nathan is the Twins’ No. 1 option.

“Perk is going to be a setup guy like Capps, and Nathan’s going to close,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t think we want to start messing with Nathan’s head by screwing around with him if it calls for a save. We just got done telling Nathan he’s in there … so that’s where we’ll go.”

Twins may adjust roster for twin bill

MINNEAPOLIS — With a doubleheader against the Indians on Monday in the middle of a stretch of 19 games in 18 days, the Twins could make a roster move to add an extra pitcher.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said it would depend on who they used in the next two games out of the bullpen, but a roster move was definitely not out of the question.

“We were talking about it, we might make an adjustment here,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a good possibility we might go with an extra pitcher for those two games.”

The biggest issue with making a move is that any position player sent down to make room for another pitcher would not be able to return to the big league club for 10 days.

And if the Twins play the doubleheader with only 12 position players, they would have just a three-man bench and there would be a good chance every one of them would get in one if not both games.

With that in mind, Gardenhire noted that utility man Luke Hughes was the team’s third catcher if needed.

“He’s catching bullpens and doing all those things,” Gardenhire said. “He’s caught before. We’re trying to work our way through it.”

Gardy wants Kubel, Span at full strength

MINNEAPOLIS — Manager Ron Gardenhire wants to see both Denard Span and Jason Kubel get plenty of swings at Triple-A Rochester before they return to the Twins.

Pointing to left fielder Delmon Young as evidence of what an extended rehab assignment can do for a hitter, Gardenhire said that he does not want them to come back unless they’ve shown they’re ready at the plate.

“We’ll go through a week of playing games, see how everything goes with both of them,” Gardenhire said. “Six to 10 games, I want to see them get at least 30 to 45 at-bats.

“If they’re not swinging good after six games and they’re both still scuffling along, we’ll add on. … I can’t afford to bring people up here and let them work their way back into shape here. We have to get ’em ready down there.”

Span is scheduled to play five innings in center field on Sunday for the Red Wings, his first game action since going on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion in early June. Kubel will play nine innings as the designated hitter.

Twins head trainer Rick McWane gave a brief update on the Twins’ injured players, and noted that time off during the All-Star break was a big help for Kubel and his sprained left foot.

“As soon as the break was over, he came back Wednesday and showed a huge improvement running around the outifeld,” McWane said.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to pitch again Wednesday, with no pitch count restrictions.

First baseman Justin Morneau continues to do well after having surgery on June 29 to relieve a pinched nerve in his neck, and will be reevaluated on Monday.

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Capps allows two-run shot as Twins fall

July 15, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ closer controversy doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

After a quick eighth inning by Joe Nathan, closer Matt Capps entered with the Twins holding a one-run lead. Capps opened the ninth with a four-pitch walk before retiring the next two batters.

Capps got ahead of Eric Hosmer, but Hosmer crushed his next offering off the batter’s eye in center field, and the Twins lost, 2-1, to the Royals.

“Any time you’re facing a good closer like Capps, especially with a good fastball like his, you’ve got to try to jump on it early,” Hosmer said. “The first one didn’t work out as planned, so I told myself, ‘Just step out and relax. Just take a deep breath.'”

The first pitch from Capps was a 92-mph fastball up in the zone, which Hosmer swung and missed at.

With the home crowd on its feet cheering for Capps with two outs, he tried to come back with the same thing. But Capps’ location was not as good the second time, and Hosmer hit it 421 feet to dead center field.

“Same thing, yeah. Just ran back over the plate, and he was able to get it,” Capps said. “I don’t know. Maybe he was looking up there after swinging through it, too, but whatever happened it wasn’t good for us. For me, us.”

It was Capps’ seventh blown save of the season, and his fourth straight bad outing at home. Capps recorded saves in the Twins’ last two wins in Chicago before the All-Star break, but that success did not carry over upon returning to Target Field.

“We scored one run tonight. In defense of [Capps], we scored one run, we had plenty of opportunities to score more runs,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Everything gets thrown on the closer. Sure, he gave it up at the end, but a lot of people misfired, too.

“So, let’s not cut him down too awful much here. The young man’s a very good pitcher and our closer. We give him the ball and we have all the trust in the world in him. He didn’t get it done tonight, that’s all that happened.”

After being retired in order the first time through the lineup, the Twins broke through for their only run in the fourth as leadoff hitter Ben Revere singled, stole second, and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

The Twins threatened again in the sixth and seventh, but Royals starter Luke Hochevar pitched out of both jams. Revere tripled to right with one out in the sixth — and did not even miss a beat as he did an accidental somersault between second and third — but the Twins could not drive in the run.

“I thought I was going to be on ‘Not Top 10’ for a second, but then I looked at the third baseman, and he was still kind of waving to get the ball in,” Revere said. “Luckily it went pretty good at that. It’s not the first time I’ve done that [stumbled] either, so I need to quit doing that.”

Hochevar finished with one run allowed on just three hits over seven innings, with four strikeouts.

He also walked three batters, but two were intentional passes to catcher Joe Mauer, a strategy that paid off twice as Hochevar retired All-Star right fielder Michael Cuddyer after each one.

Before Capps gave the game back to the Royals, the story of the night was Nick Blackburn, who was brilliant in his first outing of the second half.

Blackburn tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and two walks, while striking out three batters. He outdueled Hochevar, delivering his best start in nearly a month.

It was the first time since June 22 that Blackburn allowed three or fewer runs. Blackburn had been 1-1 with a 12.15 ERA over his last three starts, giving up 18 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings pitched.

“Everything was just down. That hasn’t been the case for probably the last four or five starts,” Blackburn said. “Today my fastball was below the knees more often than it has been in a long time.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins turn tables, rally past Brewers late

July 3, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Capps is still the Twins’ closer. But lefty Glen Perkins showed Sunday that he too could close out a ballgame, and with authority.

After watching Capps put two on with one out, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called on Perkins to face left-handed slugger Prince Fielder. Perkins struck out Fielder and Casey McGehee to secure the 9-7 victory.

Facing the All-Star first baseman in a big situation, Perkins retired Fielder on three pitches, getting him to chase a slider for the second out of the inning. Then, after McGehee fouled off two fastballs and Perkins missed with two sliders out of the zone, he got the slumping third baseman to swing over a slider down and in to end the game.

McGehee snapped his bat over his knee before walking back to the dugout as the Twins celebrated the thrilling come-from-behind victory.

“That was a really hard situation; Cappy has good numbers [against Fielder], he let me know that on the mound,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got to win baseball games, and I just thought that was a better matchup at the time.

“I think Perkins has a hot hand, and I wanted to win the ballgame, so I went to Perkins.”

Perkins has been dominan all season, giving up just seven runs (six earned) over 30 innings for a 1.80 ERA. Lefties are hitting just .209 off Perkins with 10 strikeouts in 43 at-bats.

The biggest key to Perkins’ success has been the use of his slider, which is tough on both lefties and righties, as he showed Sunday in getting Fielder and McGehee to swing and miss at it. Being able to touch 96 mph with his fastball doesn’t hurt, either.

“I’m just kind of putting it where I want for the most part,” Perkins said. “That’s a good pitch to have if I can run fastballs up there and get them off that and then throw the slider, it’s got to be tough as a hitter.”

With Perkins picking up his first career save, the Twins put together a comeback of their own Sunday against the Brewers after watching a seven-run lead slip away a night earlier.

They didn’t trail by as many runs as the Brewers did the night before, and the Twins did not wait until the ninth, but Minnesota returned the favor, handing Milwaukee a tough loss.

With their comeback, Minnesota got starter Nick Blackburn off the hook after he had a second straight rough outing, giving up six runs in just four innings.

Blackburn retired the first six Brewers in order, but all three outs in the second were hard-hit line drives. Mark Kotsay broke through for Milwaukee in the third with a 442-foot solo blast into the second deck in right field.

Milwaukee batted around in the fourth, scoring five runs on five hits, including a two-run triple by Kotsay.

Including the eight runs (seven earned) allowed on 13 hits over 4 1/3 innings Monday against the Dodgers, Blackburn has gone 0-1 with a 14.05 ERA in his last two starts, allowing 13 earned runs allowed on 19 hits in just 8 1/3 innings.

“I kind of over-adjusted from my last outing,” Blackburn said. “I struggled in it, and went out and tried to do a little too much today. We’ll just try to tune it back down a little bit and hopefully get back on track.”

After falling behind, 6-1, through four innings, the Twins’ comeback started in the fourth with a three-run home run by left fielder Rene Tosoni.

Brewers starter Zack Greinke was particularly frustrated by that pitch to Tosoni, a fastball up and away that was supposed to be buried inside.

“That pitch and the pitch to [Michael] Cuddyer before, those were the two big mistakes of the game,” Greinke said. “Other than that, I pitched real well. Those two were real bad. I don’t know that hitter [Tosoni], but that’s not a good pitch to anyone. … I don’t know why I made a pitch that bad when there’s two guys on base. I don’t get it.”

Greinke allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits over six innings with nine strikeouts and two walks. It was the sixth time in 12 starts this season he had allowed four or more earned runs, and the eighth start in which he gave up at least one home run.

With two out in the seventh, the Twins continued their rally as Joe Mauer and Cuddyer hit back-to-back singles, with the latter driving in Ben Revere from second base. Jim Thome, who earlier hit career home run No. 595, then walked to load the bases.

Third baseman Danny Valencia ripped a single to left, which was misplayed by Kotsay, allowing all three runs to score and Valencia to slide in safely at third as the Twins went from down five to the eventual two-run victory.

“It was unfortunate,” Kotsay said. “If I had come up with the ball, I thought we would have had a play at the plate with Cuddyer.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins fall as big lead evaporates late

July 2, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — It had been nearly a month since Matt Capps blew a save. Since that June 8 outing, the Twins’ closer had thrown six straight scoreless innings and converted five saves in a row.

The Brewers finally got the best of Capps on Saturday, though, as they rallied for an 8-7 victory at Target Field.

“That was pretty tough, that was embarrassing,” Capps said.

“It’s not the first tough night I’ve had. [But] it might be the worst night I’ve had that I can remember in my career.”

Called upon to close it out with the Twins leading the Brewers by three runs, Capps gave up three straight singles before getting the next two outs. With two on and two out, all Capps had to do was get Nyjer Morgan out to end the game.

Having played with Morgan for three years, Capps knew just how to pitch the Brewers’ center fielder, too. In fact, he had gotten him out in a similar situation in the past.

In 2009, Capps faced Morgan with two on and two out, as the Pirates held a 5-4 lead on the Nationals. That time, Capps got Morgan to pop out to center field to secure the victory.

This time, Morgan drove a double off the wall in right field, plating two runs to tie the ballgame.

“Go for them seats,” Morgan said of his approach, before fitting in a mention of his alter ego, Tony Plush. “In that situation, with Plush facing one of my former teammates in Matt Capps, I know he’s going to come after me. He [threw] a nice pitch, and I happened to get it with the sweet spot of the bat. I thought I put it in them seats. I should have kept running to third. I was caught in the moment, there. But now I know for next time, I’ll keep running for third.”

Morgan crushed a 94-mph, first-pitch fastball just over the outstretched glove of Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, completing a 3-for-4 night. Along with the double, Morgan had a two-run homer and a triple, with four RBIs and three runs scored.

“I felt like I had a bead on it,” Cuddyer said. “It felt close.”

Finally, pinch-hitter George Kottaras delivered the knockout punch to Capps, ripping a single to right-center to give the Brewers the lead and Capps his sixth blown save of the season.

Kottaras’ single completed the Brewers’ comeback from a 7-0 deficit in the fourth. The seven-run lead is tied for the fourth-largest blown lead in Minnesota history, and the last time the Twins had blown a seven-run lead was June 10, 2001, against the Pirates, when they led 8-1 and eventually lost 11-8.

“Definitely, the biggest win of the year,” said Ryan Braun, who exited with a left calf strain in the eighth, setting up Kottaras for the go-ahead single. “Considering the way that we have been playing and the way the game was going, down 7-0. We tried to chip away and put ourselves in position to come back and win that game. It’s unbelievable.”

After he kept them guessing last week at Miller Park, the Twins had jumped all over Brewers lefty Chris Narveson early. Alexi Casilla got things started with a single and a run scored in the first inning, but Narveson really struggled in the third and fourth.

With one down, Cuddyer and Danny Valencia hit back-to-back home runs in the third, the first Twins to do so since Sept. 25, 2010, at Detroit. An inning later, Narveson got two quick groundouts before he ran into trouble, as the Twins plated four runs with two out in the fourth.

“We knew what we were facing, we just faced him last week,” Cuddyer said. “Half changeups, half heaters. That at-bat that I hit the home run, I was looking for the changeup. I got it and, fortunately, I didn’t miss it.”

Narveson left after 4 2/3 innings, having given up seven runs on 14 hits with two walks and just one strikeout. The last pitcher to allow that many hits in less than five innings was Mark Buehrle, who gave up 14 hits in 4 1/3 innings on Aug. 2, 2008, at Kansas City.

Twins starter Carl Pavano faced just one over the minimum through four scoreless innings, and gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings of work on the night.

“It’s tough. Matty is so solid. It’s just one of those things where it got away,” Pavano said. “Those guys battled back. You have to tip your cap at them.”

After giving up 15 runs on 25 hits earlier in the week to the Dodgers, the Twins looked to be on their way to a similar performance through four innings, with seven runs and 14 hits on the board.

Instead, the Brewers’ bullpen came in and shut them down, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings without giving up a hit.

“Very tough loss for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Any time you get the ball in your closer’s hand and you lose, it’s really hard. Capps got the ball out and over the plate a few too many times.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins beat 5/25

May 25, 2011 Comments off

Capps unavailable Wednesday due to sore arm

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins closer Matt Capps was unavailable for a second consecutive game Wednesday due to soreness in his forearm.

Capps pitched Monday against the Mariners, tossing 31 pitches over 1 2/3 innings, giving up one run on two hits for his fourth blown save of the season. It was the second-highest pitch total of the season for Capps and his sixth outing of more than three outs this year.

“Capps is a no-go. We’re backing off him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re not going to mess with him.”

Capps’ injury will not require an MRI as of yet. The Twins are just being cautious to allow him to rest after a couple tough outings.

While Capps is the Twins’ closer, Gardenhire would prefer not to use him outside of the ninth inning, but the Twins have been forced to bring him in during the eighth for his past two outings.

The results in those appearances have been an 0-1 mark for Capps with a pair of blown saves. He’s allowed five runs on six hits and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

“I know a lot of teams have done that with their closers and everything,” Gardenhire said. “We really like the idea of bringing him in the ninth inning and letting him have a clean inning.”

Twins will hold fundraiser for tornado victims

MINNEAPOLIS — An autograph session will be held before Saturday’s game at Target Field to raise funds for victims of the recent tornadoes, the Twins announced Wednesday.

The session will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT outside Gate 29 on Target Plaza, and all donations will benefit the Red Cross tornado relief efforts. For $10, fans will be able to get a variety of autographs, with a limit of one from each player.

Among the players scheduled to take part in the autograph session are pitchers Matt Capps and Brian Duensing and catcher Drew Butera.

Twins show fight, but drop fifth straight

May 12, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — As he saw Matt Tolbert’s double headed to the gap in right, the only thing on Twins outfielder Ben Revere’s mind was scoring from first base. With his head down, Revere took off, quickly rounding second and then third.

With the relay coming in, Revere slid between the legs of catcher Alex Avila, as the throw from Tigers second baseman Scott Sizemore went wide. Revere was safe, tying the game, but he paid a price for his efforts, taking a hard hit to the chin from Avila’s knee.

“I was running top speed trying to tie this game, and luckily I was able to tie the game at that point,” Revere said. “I really did not know. Some guys said I flipped the catcher over, but I got hit in the chin a little bit. It looked like I got more of the collision than he did, but I did anything I could to sacrifice my body to score that run.”

That hustle and determination from Revere, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 38,938 at Target Field, was a little like the way Wednesday’s game went for the Twins. Every time they worked hard to come back from a deficit, they were knocked back down by the Tigers, who came away with the 9-7 victory for the two-game series sweep.

“Kind of a wild one out there today,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Opportunities lost and we also picked up some big hits and battled our tails off to get back in it. But we didn’t make enough pitches.”

After coming from behind three times to tie the game or take the lead on Wednesday, the Twins were all out of comebacks in the ninth inning.

Entering the inning tied at seven runs apiece, closer Matt Capps surrendered a pair of runs in the final frame, giving the game back to the Tigers yet again.

It was a forgettable outing for Capps, who served up a two-run blast in the eighth to Jhonny Peralta, but still had a chance to pick up the win after the Twins tied it in the bottom half of the inning on Tolbert’s RBI double.

“It was a slider that I left up,” Capps said. “I just left it up over the plate and he hit it.”

According to Peralta, there was a bit of luck involved, too.

“I’m not looking for that pitch,” Peralta said. “I’m looking for a sinker and he threw me a slider right there. I don’t know how I made good contact, but it’s working.”

Peralta’s home run came just after the Twins appeared to have made the comeback needed for a thrilling victory.

Following a one-out RBI double in the seventh that cut the lead to two runs, designated hitter Jason Kubel crushed a 1-1 sinker from Tigers reliever Daniel Schlereth 460 feet into the right field seats for a three-run blast. In their 35th game, it was the Twins’ first three-run home run of the year.

Kubel’s home run was his team-leading fourth of the season, and his four RBIs in the game also put him in the team lead with 20. He added a single and a walk on a 2-for-4 day as the Twins broke out the bats for a couple late rallies that were all for naught.

“It definitely shifted the momentum on our side,” Kubel said of the home run. “But they came right back and put us back down. But we fought back, and then it got away from us again.”

With a thin bullpen, the Twins were hoping for a quality start from right-hander Scott Baker. Instead, Baker delivered a shaky, walk-filled 4 1/3 innings that put his team in a 5-2 hole through five innings.

Baker had been brilliant in his last four starts, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA while averaging seven innings per game. Over that span, Baker racked up 25 strikeouts against only four walks.

He continued to add to his strikeout total on Wednesday, recording six, but walks became a problem again for Baker, just as they have been for the rest of the Twins pitching staff early this season. Baker issued five bases on balls, marking a career high for the right-hander.

“Just a couple mechanical issues where at times mechanically you’re not where you need to be,” Baker said. “That translates to your hand not being where it needs to be which translates to the ball not going where you want it to go.

“Obviously we’re not robots, we’re human beings. So sometimes it’s harder to make that adjustment than others. Today, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that adjustment.”

Baker’s walks were not the only ones that hurt the Twins on the day.

Lefty reliever Jose Mijares walked Brennan Boesch with one out in the eighth, which set up Peralta’s two-run, pinch-hit blast off Capps one batter later. With his team issuing eight walks on the day, Gardenhire was not at all pleased.

“You walk people there at the end of the ballgame, you don’t want to put anybody on base,” Gardenhire said. “That’s not being too fine, that’s just not throwing it over. You’ve got to have courage, too. Courage is throwing the ball over the plate, making them swing the bat and hopefully we’ll catch it. Sometimes you back away and you shy away and that’s not good enough.”

Gardenhire also was unhappy with the missed opportunities in the game offensively. In particular, he could not understand how center fielder Denard Span was unable to score from second base on Luke Hughes’ double in the seventh.

As Gardenhire saw it, Span should have been at least halfway to third on the play, and as the team’s fastest runner, should have scored easily.

Span eventually scored on Kubel’s home run, but it was a mistake that could have cost the Twins had it not been for their designated hitter’s three-run blast. As much as injuries, illnesses and offensive struggles have been an issue for the Twins early this season, fundamental lapses have found their way into the mix as well.

That, Gardenhire says, is something that needs to be fixed for them to start winning games.

“The fundamental stuff and the little stuff we have done so well, these guys have been part of that,” he said. “There are not any guys out there on the field who have not been part of that through Spring Training and part of the season.

“So you can’t tell me you don’t know. You can’t tell me that. It’s just not getting it done.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins walk off on Valencia’s single in 10th

April 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Off the bat, there was no doubt that it was gone. Jason Kubel had crushed a 3-1 pitch deep into the seats in right field for the Twins walk-off victory.

“I thought Kubel’s was going to be in the upper deck,” said Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, who eventually beat the Royals, 4-3, with a walk-off single in the 10th inning on Tuesday. “Honestly, he crushed it.”

But this is Target Field, and the wind was blowing in. So a sure upper-deck home run turned into a long fly out to the warning track. That is, until Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur dropped it. Then it was a race to second and third base to avoid a forceout.

Baseball can be crazy like that sometimes.

“I thought it was going to be a home run off the bat, so I get halfway out there and I see Francoeur’s about to catch it, and he does catch it, so then we run back to the bag,” said right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who was on first with Kubel at the plate.

“Then he drops it, so then you’ve got to go, and it was just a crazy play. Fortunately, I was able to beat the throw by a half a step.”

The question is, what part of the play is craziest?

Is it that Kubel hit the ball hard enough to reach the upper deck and ended up with a single due to the wind and size of the ballpark, or is that Francoeur caught what should have been a home run, only to drop it and complicate things even further?

“I caught it. It was in my glove,” Francoeur said. “I didn’t think I had a chance and I started running it down and kept going. I caught it and it was in my glove and then I hit the wall and it just kind of popped out. I just couldn’t hang on. That was the frustrating part.”

Once everything had been sorted out with that play, the game was still tied, and Valencia was at the plate. Behind 1-2 in the count, the third baseman drove a fastball away to the opposite field, driving in the run for the victory.

Valencia nearly cost the Twins the game an inning earlier after not being aggressive enough on the basepaths. On first after drawing a walk, Valencia advanced only one base on Jim Thome’s pinch-hit single with one out.

One batter later, Denard Span flew out deep to center field, and had Valencia advanced to third, he could have scored on a sacrifice fly for the win.

“He’s got to be on third base,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “There’s no doubt. He’s not the kind of guy I’ve got to start pinch-running for, he’s got to run for himself.

“He has to be aggressive on the bases, and he needed to get to third base on that play, there’s no doubt. And he knows that, I told him.”

Of course, none of that would have mattered had it not been for the impressive performance of the Twins’ bullpen.

In the offseason, one of the Twins’ biggest question marks was whether the bullpen would be deep enough after several relievers left Minnesota through free agency. That answer, through 10 games, has been a resounding ‘yes.’

After an ugly start to the seventh inning had the Twins on the verge of letting the game get out of hand quickly, the bullpen came in and slammed the door shut long enough for the offense to pull out the win.

“Our bullpen did a great job tonight,” Valencia said. “An unbelievable job.”

Everything was going well early on for the Twins. They had a lead, they had scored runs early in the ballgame, and one of their best hitters, Cuddyer, finally broke out of his season-opening slump with a 4-for-4 night.

Then the seventh inning happened. Things went wrong in a hurry for Minnesota in the frame, but some impressive pitching from Jose Mijares and Matt Capps kept things from getting out of control.

“The bottom line is, I’ve got to get the guy at the plate out,” Capps said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

A seemingly harmless grounder to third turned into an infield single after Valencia’s throw went wide of first base. The sacrifice bunt that followed became a two-base error as left-hander Brian Duensing airmailed Justin Morneau at first base.

Then, a hard grounder up the middle, which glanced off the hand and leg of Duensing, tied the game. As he left, the starter was more worried about his poor throw to first than the pain from the hard grounder back to the mound.

“I was really upset with myself because of the airmail that I did to first base,” Duensing said. “But I put the team in a situation that could’ve cost us the ballgame, and for Mijares and Capps to come in and shut the door like they did, it does nothing but fire you up.”

With the game tied, runners on the corners and none out, Duensing was pulled in favor of Mijares, who promptly struck out left fielder Alex Gordon. That was all for Mijares, as Capps entered and got Billy Butler to pop out to short before striking out Francoeur looking.

Capps pitched 1 2/3 innings and did not allow a hit, Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth, and Dusty Hughes finished things off with a clean 10th for the win over his former club. Twins relievers retired the last 12 batters of the game.

“A hard-fought game,” Gardenhire said. “Our bullpen did a super job coming in and getting us out of it.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.