(Sports Network) -- Brian Duensing will have a tough act to follow when the Minnesota Twins pitcher makes his first start of the season in tonight's clash with the Baltimore Orioles from Camden Yards.
Minnesota took the opener of this four-game series behind a sensational performance from Carl Pavano on Thursday, with the veteran right-hander going the distance on a five-hitter to lead his team to a 5-0 triumph.
Pavano (12-6) struck out four and walked just one in posting his seventh consecutive winning decision, and needed only 102 pitches to record his fourth complete game in seven starts.
"I set out this offseason with personal goals," said Pavano, whose 12 wins are just one shy of the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia for the American League lead. "I wanted to go deeper into games and it feels better than good."
Delmon Young continued a recent tear of his own for Minnesota, collecting two hits in three at-bats and staking Pavano to a quick 3-0 lead with a bases- clearing double in the first inning. The former No. 1 overall pick is now hitting .452 (14-for-31) with 12 RBI in eight games since the All-Star break.
Michael Cuddyer added a solo homer in the victory, the Twins' fifth in their last seven tries. Minnesota moved within two games of idle Chicago for first place in the AL Central standings.
Duensing will attempt to get his club a little closer to the top spot when he toes the rubber tonight. The former University of Nebraska standout has been brilliant pitching out of the bullpen this season, compiling a 3-1 record with a stellar 1.67 earned run average over 39 appearances, which prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to tab the left-hander to replace an ineffective Nick Blackburn in the Minnesota rotation.
The 27-year-old Duensing did make nine regular-season starts as a rookie in 2009 and also took the ball for the Twins in their 7-2 loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of last year's AL Division Series. He pitched very well in a starting role, producing an impressive 5-1 record and a 2.73 ERA in those nine outings.
Duensing stretched out for tonight's assignment by throwing four innings in relief of Blackburn against the White Sox last Sunday, and picked up the win in the Twins' 7-6 come-from-behind verdict after yielding just one run.
Blackburn has registered a poor 6.53 ERA in 18 starts and was demoted to the bullpen after being reached for five runs in five innings in Sunday's test. It was the fifth time in the righty's last six games in which he allowed five runs or more.
Jeremy Guthrie, the scheduled starter for Baltimore this evening, is mired in a frustrating slump as well at the moment. The right-hander comes in having dropped six consecutive decisions since his last victory, a May 25 besting of Oakland, and is a woeful 3-10 with 4.58 ERA overall in a disappointing 2010 campaign.
Guthrie was sharp in his latest effort, though, limiting Toronto to one run while striking out six batters over 6 2/3 innings this past Saturday at Camden Yards. He still wound up with a no-decision to extend his winless streak to nine straight starts.
One of Guthrie's three wins of 2010 did come against the Twins, however, with the former Cleveland Indians No. 1 pick permitting three runs in 6 2/3 innings during a May 8 encounter in Minneapolis. He's 2-0 with a 3.16 ERA through five career matchups with Minnesota, three of which have been starts.
Baltimore owns the majors' worst record at 30-65 and has dropped six of seven to begin the second half following last night's defeat. Kevin Millwood (2-9), making his first start in more than two weeks, took the loss on Thursday after surrendering five runs in a 6 1/3-inning stint.
Minnesota has won three of five meetings with Baltimore so far this season, but had lost in three straight visits to Camden Yards prior to prevailing last night.