The Minnesota Twins may still occupy the AL Central basement, but they are bidding for their longest winning streak in more than a year.
Last-place Minnesota (34-45) is trying to win five in a row for the first time since an eight-game run June 11-21, 2011. The current winning streak continued with Monday's 6-4 victory over the Tigers (39-41) to open this four-game set.
The Twins also won four straight May 16-19, a streak that began with a two-game sweep at Detroit. Minnesota is also seeking to win four in a row at Comerica Park for the first time since May 25-July 12, 2008.
"We've got some momentum now and we want to keep that going," left fielder Josh Willingham said.
Mauer and Plouffe, who combined for three hits and three RBIs on Monday, are two of the biggest reasons why the Twins are on a roll.
Mauer, Minnesota's lone representative at next week's All-Star game in Kansas City, is batting .400 during a 10-game hitting streak.
Plouffe, meanwhile, is 6 for 16 with two doubles, three homers and six RBIs in his last four games.
Nick Blackburn (4-5, 7.74 ERA) will take the ball for Minnesota seeking again to beat the Tigers on the road for the first time.
The right-hander is 0-5 with an 8.64 ERA in nine career games - eight starts - at Detroit, and he was roughed up in his most recent visit May 16 while being bothered by a left thigh problem. He surrendered six runs and six hits and was lifted after two innings before the Twins went on to win 11-7.
Blackburn was hit hard again Wednesday, giving up six runs and nine hits - including back-to-back homers in a four-run fifth - before exiting after that inning in a 12-5 loss to Chicago. Each of his previous six starts had ended in wins for Minnesota, despite the fact his ERA in that span was 8.04.
"I can't begin to explain how frustrated I am right now," Blackburn told the Twins' official website Wednesday. "It's like I'm not getting very many breaks. Guys go through streaks like that, but it's not fun. I guarantee you that. I'm not enjoying myself right now."
He hasn't enjoyed himself against Miguel Cabrera , who is hitting .452 off him with three homers in 31 at-bats.
Cabrera, who will join teammates Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander at the All-Star game, has a .517 average with nine RBIs in his last eight games, but Detroit has failed to capitalize and has split those contests.
"We haven't really synchronized all year, but the players have done a good job of staying pretty stable," manager Jim Leyland said.
Leyland, though, suddenly must deal with a lack of stability in his rotation. Max Scherzer had been scheduled to make Tuesday's start, but has been scratched due to a hamstring problem and will be replaced by Duane Below (2-1, 2.70).
Below has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen this season, taking his lone loss at Minnesota on May 16, when he gave up two runs in 2 1-3 innings. The left-hander went 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA in two starts last season.
Mauer is 2 for 4 with a double off Below, while Plouffe is 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
|June 24, 2012||Matt Capps||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|June 17, 2012||Matt Capps||Day-to-Day||Sore right shoulder|
|June 17, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right quadricep|
|June 16, 2012||Joe Mauer||Day-to-Day||Sore left hamstring|
|June 15, 2012||Justin Morneau||Day-to-Day||Left forearm injury|
|June 14, 2012||P.J. Walters||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 02, 2012||Max Scherzer||Day-to-Day||Left hamstring soreness|
|June 25, 2012||Alex Avila||Day-to-Day||Left knee tendinitis|
|June 19, 2012||Jose Valverde||Day-to-Day||Right wrist|
|June 11, 2012||Drew Smyly||15-Day DL||Severe blister, left middle finger|
|June 11, 2012||Drew Smyly||15-Day DL||Severe blister, left middle finger|
|June 06, 2012||Alex Avila||15-Day DL||Aggravated right hamstring strain|
DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Tigers had a feel-good story in an 8-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night.
Darin Downs made his major league debut, striking out one and walking one in a hitless ninth inning, to complete quite a comeback.
He had a fractured skull and brain swelling after getting hit by a line drive while pitching for Tampa Bay's Double-A team in 2009, putting him on the brink of death.
Downs said he didn't think about his journey during the game, when he trotted in from the bullpen and got Twins star Justin Morneau , the first batter he faced, to fly out.
"I just try to focus on the task at hand," he said. "The reflection period is for later on tonight."
Downs got a chance to pitch because scheduled starter Max Scherzer was scratched with an injured left hamstring, leading to a series of roster moves.
"I had a little nerves running out of the bullpen," he said.
Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe hit homers in a five-run third and Ryan Doumit had a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, lifting Minnesota to a season-high, five-game winning streak.
"That was a long night, but a huge win for this ballclub," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after a 3-hour, 26-minute game and 90-minute rain delay. "Our hitters came through when we needed them and our bullpen was great again."
Joe Mauer had three hits, including a solo homer to lead off the ninth and give the Twins a two-run lead.
"They're swinging the bats pretty good," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "They're like everyone else, they'll go as far as their pitching takes them."
Jeff Gray (5-0) gave up only one hit in two innings after starter Nick Blackburn gave up six runs and eight hits over four innings. Kyle Waldrop and Tyler Robertson each pitched another inning of scoreless relief and Glen Perkins worked the ninth for his fourth save in six chances.
Brayan Villarreal (3-2) took the loss by giving up Doumit's sacrifice fly. Duane Below , starting in place of Scherzer, gave up five runs - one earned - and five hits in 2 2-3 innings.
"We were fighting an uphill battle all night because of the way our pitching lined up," Leyland said.
Detroit has dropped back-to-back games to the Twins after pulling within a game of .500 with five wins in an eight-game stretch of success.
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead in the first on Willingham's sacrifice fly. Detroit went ahead 3-1 in the second on Ryan Raburn 's RBI double and Brennan Boesch 's two-run single.
The Tigers lost the lead in in the next inning, giving up five runs with two outs because of four hits, a balk, wild pitch and costly miscue in the field. Detroit shortstop Ramon Santiago had a chance to keep the Twins scoreless in the third, but his fielding error allowed Ben Revere to score and extend the inning.
Willingham followed with his 18th homer and Plouffe, the first to face called-up reliever Jose Ortega , cleared the fences for the 19th time this season go put Minnesota ahead 6-3.
"Plouffe is just unbelievable right now," Gardenhire said. "I don't even know how to describe what he's doing. It seems like he's making at least one fantastic play a night and he had more than one tonight."
Boesch had a solo homer and Austin Jackson followed with a game-tying, two-run shot in the fourth inning.
Following two scoreless innings for both teams, Doumit's fly put the Twins ahead for good in the seventh.
NOTES: The Tigers recalled Ortega from Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday and purchased the contract of Downs from the Mud Hens. They sent RHP Luis Marte and IF Danny Worth to Toledo and designated Toledo OF Matt Young for assignment to make room for Downs on the 40-man roster. ... The Twins optioned RHP Liam Hendriks (0-5, 7.04 ERA) to Triple-A Rochester on Tuesday and recalled RHP Cole De Vries. ... Scherzer, who injured his left hamstring while running on the turf in Tampa, said he fully expects to make his next start Sunday at home against Kansas City. ... The game started after being delayed by rain for 1 hour and 30 minutes.