In first start with Twins, Pavano shines
Righty shuts down Tigers as offense behind him unloads
DETROIT -- The Twins didn't specifically go out and acquire Carl Pavano based on the success that he's had against the Tigers this season.But with Minnesota facing first-place Detroit this weekend and the club looking for a boost to keep it from falling out of contention in the American League Central race, the hope was that Pavano could find a way to duplicate those results against the Tigers in a Twins uniform. Pavano certainly rose to the occasion on Saturday night, tossing seven scoreless innings in an 11-0 victory at Comerica Park that moved third-place Minnesota within 4 1/2 games of Detroit. "It was a pleasure to watch a guy that's been around go out and do what he did," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "To use all of his pitches -- including breaking balls behind in the count -- and change speeds like he did, it was fun for all of us to see." In his first start for the Twins since being acquired from the Indians in a waiver trade Friday, Pavano was also lifted by a strong night for his offense. Denard Span went 5-for-5 and Joe Mauer homered en route to the Twins tallying a total of 15 hits in their lopsided win. But while it was Pavano's Twins debut, there was some familiarity in that he was making his second successive start against the Tigers, having held them to just one run over eight innings on Sunday while pitching for Cleveland. This time, Pavano (10-8) upped his performance by allowing just five hits and striking out five while not issuing a walk. "It happened so quick, I'm still in shock a bit," Pavano said of the trade. "It hasn't really hit me yet. "I was glad to go out there and put together a great outing off the bat. I've got to keep going. We've got a lot of season left." For the Twins, there is comfort in knowing that 52 games remain, considering that they are still trying to climb back in the AL Central hunt. It certainly helps that Pavano has had success against the teams from their division that they'll face frequently down the stretch. Saturday's win brought Pavano's record against the Tigers in four starts this season to 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA. "He's beat us every time this year, and he's done a great job pitching," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "I have to give him credit. We weren't terrible every time we faced him. We made adjustments. He's made adjustments. He's just flat-out beat us this year." The outing wasn't without a little bit of trouble. Pavano had to work out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning. But he was able to get the Tigers' No. 9 hitter, Adam Everett, to strike out swinging before retiring Curtis Granderson on a groundout. Pavano also got some help, thanks to a key defensive play in the fifth. With the Twins leading 3-0 at the time thanks to an Alexi Casilla sac fly in the top of the inning, Pavano faced runners on first and third with just one out. Placido Polanco hit a sharp grounder to the left of third baseman Nick Punto, who had to dive to get the ball. On his knees, Punto made the throw to Casilla at second, who finished off the relay to first with his running throw across the bag for the inning-ending double play. "Defense is the name of the game for me," Pavano said. "I induce contact. The double play was a huge pick-me-up for me." Pavano managed to limit the number of hits allowed by keeping the Tigers off balance, using a variety of his pitches, including numerous changeups. It was something that a few of his fellow starters took notice of, including Scott Baker. The hope of Gardenhire and his staff is that Pavano's outing was a great lesson for many of his young pitchers, who have been without a veteran starting example for the past two seasons. "I thought Baker was hilarious," Gardenhire said. "[Pavano] threw a lot of changeups out there and Bake said, 'I haven't thrown that many changeups in my whole career.' Maybe he watched and learned something." The strong offensive night for the Twins came against a pitcher that Gardenhire called "one of the toughest right-handers in the league." Justin Verlander has caused his fair share of trouble against the Twins in recent seasons, but on Saturday night, Minnesota was able to get to him early, tagging him for five runs over six innings. Mauer drove the first pitch he saw from Verlander (12-6) over the left-field fence for his 20th home run for a 2-0 lead in the first. It was one of three hits for the catcher on the night. Span scored on Mauer's homer, following one of his five hits on the night, which matched his career high. His only other five-hit game came on July 3, also vs. Detroit. He is 25-for-50 (.500) against the Tigers this season, supplementing his .444 career batting average in 22 games against them.
"He hits us like he's in our meetings before the game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Span before Saturday's contest.The Twins' other recent acquisition, Orlando Cabrera, extended his career-high hitting streak to 18 games with a two-run triple in the eighth inning. It was part of a pair of three-run innings the Twins put together in the seventh and eighth off Tigers reliever Chris Lambert to cap the blowout victory. For the Twins, it was a much-needed win at a time when every game counts. And there was something to be said for what Pavano's presence brought to the club. "Come in after losing the first one, you've got [Verlander] and then [Jarrod] Washburn tomorrow, you know it's not going to be easy," Gardenhire said. "The rest of the season isn't going to be easy, either. We've got some catching up to do. A performance like that is huge. I think it gives this ballclub a little bit of confidence, too."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.