MINNEAPOLIS -- For left-hander Brian Duensing, the first two innings have been a struggle all season.
And it wasn't any different Tuesday night, as Duensing struggled early and the Twins couldn't come back despite Josh Willingham setting a career high with his 30th homer of the season in an 8-4 loss to the Tigers.
Duensing, who has made eight starts and 33 appearances out of the bullpen, has a 9.56 ERA in the first two innings compared to a 3.47 ERA in all other innings.
"I don't know what the deal is with the first two innings," Duensing said. "It's kinda been like that for a little bit. That's been one of the frustrating parts. I feel like I'm really close to figuring it out, but I don't know if I'm too amped up coming out. The ball seems to be up in the zone."
Duensing, who had a 3.32 ERA over his previous three starts, simply didn't have his best stuff against the Tigers. The left-hander went six innings, but he gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks.
The Tigers scored two runs in the opening frame on a two-run single from Jhonny Peralta with two outs. They added two more runs in the second, as Gerald Laird brought home a run on a triple before scoring on a double from Austin Jackson.
"He was overthrowing early," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's flat, and then he started using his pitches. When his velocity's up there 93-94, that's really not him. He should settle in there somewhere around 90 and let movement take over. Once he did that he was better."
Duensing agreed with Gardenhire's take, as he said he's more effective when he's not trying to throw as hard.
"When I'm throwing 91, 92, 93 mph, things probably aren't going to go very well for me," Duensing said. "When I'm 88-90, the ball is sinking and the ball is down. The changeup is usually coming out of the hand pretty good, also. So it might be an indication that I'm amped up or rushing to the plate and trying to do too much. Once I can kind of control that, my outings seem to be pretty decent."
Minnesota came back to tie it with four unearned runs against right-hander Doug Fister in the third. Jamey Carroll reached on an error from Omar Infante at second before advancing to third on a single from Ben Revere. Darin Mastroianni then reached, as Prince Fielder came off the bag at first, then had his throw to second base sail high to score Carroll and allow Revere to reach third.
It set the stage for a game-tying three-run homer from Willingham with two outs after Joe Mauer struck out. It was Willingham's team-high 30th blast of the year. He hit 29 for the A's last season.
"It felt good," Willingham said. "It was good to get us back in the ballgame, too. I wish we would've won the game, but it feels good to do something I've never done before."
But the Tigers retook the lead in the sixth on a go-ahead solo shot from Andy Dirks off Duensing with one out.
Detroit tacked on an insurance run in the seventh against reliever Casey Fien on an RBI single from Miguel Cabrera after Infante led off the inning with a triple. It was Cabrera's Major League-leading 100th RBI of the year. The Tigers added two more runs in the ninth, with Cabrera driving in another run on a double and scoring on an error.
It was enough for Fister, who gave up the four unearned runs on five hits and two walks over eight innings. He also struck out seven. Jose Valverde tossed a scoreless ninth to close things out for Detroit.
"We go with it pitch to pitch," Fister said. "We don't try to look at things too big, too grand. It's one pitch at a time. You can't really take what just happened to the next pitch. You really just have to clear your mind and go for it."