Duensing shines as Twins up Central lead

Duensing shines as Twins up Central lead

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins were fortunate to somehow miss facing Zack Greinke for most of his Cy Young Award-winning year in 2009. They had to face the Royals ace just twice last season, with both meetings coming in the final two weeks of the season while the Twins were in the midst of a tight pennant race.

But this season, the Twins have seen their fair share of the pitcher and surprisingly, that hasn't been such a bad thing.

The Twins continued what has so far been a season full of success against the tough right-hander, tagging Greinke for four runs over eight innings in a 4-3 victory over the Royals on Wednesday night at Target Field that completed the series sweep.

"If you can beat Greinke, it's a good win," said Twins starter Brian Duensing.

Greinke held the Twins hitless for 4 2/3 innings, but the club staged a two-out rally in the fifth inning and J.J. Hardy homered in the seventh to back a strong outing by Duensing and give Minnesota its sixth straight win. It raised the Twins' lead in the American League Central race to a season-high 5 1/2 games.

Duensing held the Royals to one run on six hits over eight innings. It was the fourth time in his last five starts that he's allowed one earned run or fewer, and he improved his record to 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA since joining the starting rotation on July 23.

"Duensing was unbelievable," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're facing one of the best pitchers in our league and it's always going to be a battle against that guy. That's what we did. We battled."

Things got a little tight in the ninth when Matt Capps gave up two runs and had the tying run at second base. But he got Mitch Maier to fly out to left field, completing his 11th save in 13 tries as a Twin and completing the victory that lowered the Twins' magic number to 18, as the White Sox fell to the Tigers, 5-1, in Detroit.

Greinke, who has been so tough to face over the past two seasons, fell to 0-4 against the Twins this season and he has posted an 8.18 ERA in those four starts.

"I honestly didn't know Greinke was throwing until this afternoon," Duensing said. "I knew I would have to keep it close. He's obviously very good. You've got to give credit to our offense too, putting across runs against Greinke is tough to do."

Greinke had allowed just two baserunners over his first 4 2/3 innings, as Matt Tolbert reached on a fielding error by first baseman Wilson Betemit in the third and Orlando Hudson drew a leadoff walk in the fourth.

But after Jose Morales drew a two-out walk off Greinke in the fifth, Hardy tallied the Twins first hit of the night with a single to left field. Tolbert followed with an RBI single to right field and Denard Span added a two-run triple into the right-field corner to give the Twins a 3-1 lead.

"It's like they make adjustments faster than I can make adjustments." Greinke said.

The Twins added to their lead in the seventh when Hardy blasted a 2-1 pitch from Hardy into the bullpens in left-center field for his sixth home run of the year. The solo home run, Hardy's first at Target Field, stretched the Twins lead to 4-1.

It was the second straight night that Hardy played a big role in the Twins' offense. On Tuesday night, Hardy tallied a season-high three RBIs against Kansas City while helping the Twins to a 10-3 victory. And over the past six games, Hardy has batted .444 with eight RBIs and seven runs scored.

One change that Hardy has made lately is to cut back on his pregame work in order to keep his sore left wrist from flaring up on him. And so far the wrist is feeling good, and it's translating into results.

"Right now he has a great swing going and he's not swinging as much [before the game]," Gardenhire said. "That might be a wakeup call for him too. Cut down on yours swings and quit thinking so much. Just go out there and put a swing on it, that's what he's doing right now."

As for Duensing, he had his start pushed back three days after the left-hander threw two innings of relief in a 13-inning loss to the Tigers last Thursday. The extra days between starts were an effort to give Duensing's arm a rest and it appeared like the time off worked.

The lone run that Duensing gave up to the Royals came in the second inning on Brayan Pena's one-out, RBI double. And the left-hander seemed to get better as his outing progressed. He allowed just two hits over his final five innings.

"He's got a good stuff, a very underrated pitcher," said Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. "Changeup, slider, fastball and can throw 'em all for strikes. He keeps you off-balance.

"I played with him at Nebraska and saw the same thing. He's been doing it for years. And he's definitely having a great year."

The Twins finished up their homestead going 8-1 against Detroit, Texas and Kansas City, with their only loss coming in their 13-inning game against the Tigers. And the Twins picked up 1 1/2 games over the White Sox during that strong stretch.

It's been good baseball at the right time but now the Twins must see if they can carry their winning ways on to a six-game road trip that includes a stop in Cleveland and then an all-important series at Chicago -- the final head-to-head meeting between the two teams.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.