Plouffe, Santana power Twins past Braves

Plouffe, Santana power Twins past Braves

ATLANTA -- Despite his recent success on the mound, Ervin Santana entered Tuesday's series opener vs. the Braves still looking to win three straight starts for the first time this season. Against his former team, the right-hander finally accomplished that feat, tossing seven scoreless innings in a 4-2 win at Turner Field.

"He's efficient, he throws strikes, he changes speeds and he can bury his breaking ball when he wants to," Braves manager Brian Snitker said about Santana. "He pitched eight innings [in Minneapolis on July 26], and we won 2-0 there. He's just real efficient and knows what he's doing. His command is really good, and he's a good pitcher."

Atlanta right-hander Joel De La Cruz allowed only one run in his sixth career start, but he was once again denied his first Major League victory, as the Braves registered only four hits against Santana. Since rejoining Atlanta's rotation on July 31, De La Cruz has surrendered one run or less in three of his four starts.

Santana's scoreless start

While the Braves failed to break through against Santana, they rallied to score two runs against Taylor Rogers in the eighth inning. But after the Twins added another run in the ninth, Brandon Kintzler navigated around a one-out double by A.J. Pierzynski to convert his fourth consecutive save opportunity.

"The game took on a different look there at the end," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Early on, it was all about getting a run on the board and watching Ervin go to work. He was on cruise control for a while. Late in the game, we had the opportunity to add on."

Plouffe's RBI single

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Power Plouffe: The Twins jumped out to an early lead with Trevor Plouffe bringing home Joe Mauer with a two-out RBI double to left. The Twins didn't score again until Mauer hit a solo homer in the eighth, and Plouffe added an RBI single in the ninth to give Minnesota an insurance run, although Jorge Polanco was thrown out at home on the play by center fielder Ender Inciarte. Plouffe was 3-for-5.

"He responded and had a big hit early," Molitor said. "He also got that big hit up the middle there to get us that last insurance run."

Plouffe's RBI double

Cruz control: After being hit by a comebacker in the fourth inning and having to exit Wednesday's game vs. the Brewers with a right knee contusion, De La Cruz struggled early on against the Twins. But after surrendering Plouffe's RBI double and issuing a walk to the following batter, the right-hander retired 11 straight before giving up a single to Robbie Grossman in the fifth. De La Cruz ran into trouble again in the sixth with runners on first and second with no outs, but he induced a ground-ball double play before exiting the game after 5 2/3 solid innings.

"He was good. He just kind of just had to work really hard to get it done," Snitker said. "He kept the game in check, and he gave us a chance. That's all you can ask. I didn't see any effects from getting hit in the knee, and it was a solid outing."

Santana keeps it rolling: Santana has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since mid-June and turned in another impressive start with his seven scoreless innings. With the win, Santana improved to 5-2 with a 1.84 ERA over his last 10 starts. He was also fresh, as his last start on Wednesday was 2 1/3 innings before the game was ultimately postponed by rain. He proved that by striking out pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur on a 94 mph fastball to get out of a jam in the seventh.

"It was nothing but sliders until the last pitch, because I knew he was looking for it," Santana said. "So I threw a fastball. I was just trying to make a good pitch. I wasn't worried about velocity. I was trying to locate." More >

Inciarte's outfield assist

Showing off the arm: The Twins threatened to put the game out of reach after loading the bases with no outs in the ninth. And although they tacked on an insurance run on Plouffe's RBI single, Inciarte limited the damage when he threw out Polanco at home plate. The outfield assist marked the center fielder's 12th of the year, which ranks second in the National League behind Starling Marte.

"Awesome play," Snitker said. "You [didn't] think he [had] a chance. That's some kind of arm strength right there to put it right on the money. It's big in that game, too. It keeps that game doable. We're getting in the ninth inning and a hit away from tying the game. That was big at that point in time."

QUOTABLE
"That's on me. When you miss an opportunity, it falls on the manager. You watch the play, and I thought the ball beat him. I don't think it was particularly close. You watch the reactions of your players from the guy who slid to the guy who told him to slide. So I quickly turned the page. It was a mistake." -- Molitor, on failing to challenge the play at the plate with Polanco in the ninth, as replays showed he appeared safe on Plouffe's single

WHAT'S NEXT
Twins: Right-hander Kyle Gibson (4-6, 4.86 ERA) is set to start for the Twins in the series finale on Wednesday at 6:10 p.m. CT. After a solid July that saw him post a 3.69 ERA in five starts, Gibson has a 7.98 ERA in three August outings. He's never faced the Braves in his four-year career.

Braves: Atlanta will turn to Mike Foltynewicz to start Wednesday's series finale at Turner Field, with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET. The 24-year-old earned the win against the Twins on July 27 despite enduring his worst start of the season, allowing seven runs (six earned) on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Since then, the right-hander has posted a 5.29 ERA over three starts. First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. ET.

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Pat James is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.