MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ryan Jeffers hit his first major league homer to spark Minnesota's four-run third inning, and Michael Pineda stayed sharp in his return from suspension by finishing seven innings for the Twins in a 6-2 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday.
Pineda (1-0) allowed two runs and three hits, struck out eight and walked two in his first victory since Sept. 1, 2019. After serving a 60-game penalty for taking a banned weight-loss drug, Pineda debuted last week with six innings and a no-decision as the Twins beat Chicago. He worked through this start as a steady rain fell over the last four innings.
“I’m feeling very proud of myself because that’s what we want, just trying to work longer in the game and give everything I’ve got every five to six days,” said Pineda, who has a 2.77 ERA through two turns. He went 7-1 with a 2.76 ERA over his last 11 starts before the suspension.
“There’s not a lot of room or time to just figure things out and just kind of settle back in," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Big Mike has been ready to go from the first pitch he returned, and I don’t know if every guy does it that easily.”
Jeffers crushed a full-count fastball from Michael Fulmer (0-1) into the juniper wall behind center field, an estimated distance of 437 feet. Fulmer recorded only one out in the third, with the Tigers continuing to ease the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and 2017 All-Star into action after he missed the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Fulmer lost to the Twins for the first time in his career. He was 5-0 with a 2.64 ERA in his first five starts against them, but he left the bases loaded for Daniel Norris and was charged with four runs and four hits despite feeling he had an improved grasp of his pitches.
“Although it was a rough one today, I feel like it was a step in the right direction," Fulmer said.
Eddie Rosario greeted Norris with a three-run double, before his latest lackadaisical move on the basepaths led to him getting caught in a rundown between second and third.
Byron Buxton homered in the eighth and Taylor Rogers struck out the side in the ninth for the Twins (26-17), who improved to 18-5 at home. They pulled within one game of first-place Chicago (26-15) in the AL Central, with Cleveland in between.
Jeimer Candelario doubled twice and scored both runs for the Tigers, the first on a two-out single in the fourth by rookie Willi Castro. Candelario is batting .415 with 10 runs in his last 12 games. Miguel Cabrera struck out twice, stopping a 13-game hitting streak that was his longest in five years.
Almost assured a spot in the postseason regardless of finishing first, second or third in the division, thanks to the expanded 16-team format following the virus-shortened 60-game schedule, the banged-up Twins have been trying to take it easy on their hitters to keep them fresh.
“I try not to worry about that, but I do want to be in the lineup every day,” Buxton said. “You just trust the process and go with the flow.”
Only three of their original regulars were in the lineup, with designated hitter Nelson Cruz (hip) out for the second straight game and first baseman Miguel Sanó (hamstring) also on the bench. Backup outfielder LaMonte Wade not only batted leadoff but played first base, executing a slick split and scoop to convert third baseman Josh Donaldson's long, low throw into an out in the eighth.
Rookie Isaac Paredes, one of seven hitless Tigers, has one hit in his last 24 at-bats with eight strikeouts. After moving above the .500 mark to approach the cut for the playoffs, they've lost five of six games.
“When you play in meaningful games, you take a lot out of them. You grow,” said bench coach Lloyd McClendon, who ran the team for manager Ron Gardenhire. "If you’re not working hard, you’re not learning on a daily basis, then you’re not getting better. I think this team is getting better.”
Tigers: Gardenhire stayed inside for the second straight game, feeling better but still experiencing some symptoms of a stomach illness that sent him to an early exit on Saturday.
Twins: RHP Cody Stashak was reinstated from the injured list after missing 24 games with inflammation in his lower back. He pitched a scoreless eighth for the Twins, whose 3.83 relief ERA was eighth-best in baseball entering the game.
Tigers: Hosting a two-game series against Milwaukee, their only home games in a 15-day span. The Tigers send RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-2, 3.89 ERA) out for his eighth start of the season on Tuesday. RHP Adrian Houser (1-3, 4.97 ERA) pitches for the Brewers.
Twins: RHP José Berríos (3-3, 4.29 ERA) starts the opener in St. Louis, with RHP Randy Dobnak (6-2, 2.72 ERA) taking the mound for the second game on Tuesday, his turn coming up in a doubleheader for the third straight time. RHP Carlos Martínez (0-1, 14.73 ERA) returns from the coronavirus to start the first game for the Cardinals, likely followed by RHP Daniel Ponce de Leon (0-3, 7.82 ERA). The two-game series was condensed to one day so the Cardinals could have one more day off before the end of the season, with a backlog of makeup games this month.
More AP MLB coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB