(Sports Network) - An injury on Wednesday forced the Twins to go to their bullpen a little earlier then they might have needed to. With Carl Pavano set to start tonight versus the Rays, Minnesota's relief group might get rewarded with some more rest.
Pavano looks to win a fifth straight start for the first time in almost six years and notch a third straight complete game this evening in the opener of a four-game set versus Tampa Bay at Target Field.
The 34-year-old Pavano has a 1.64 earned run average over his personal winning streak and has gone at least seven innings in nine of his last 10 starts. He went the distance in a win over the Phillies on June 20, allowing just one run on four hits, then notched his third complete game of the season and first shutout with Saturday's three-hit, one-walk effort versus the Mets.
"My pitch count was getting up there. I had the option of handing it to the bullpen, but it was something where I wanted to finish, obviously for the team and personally," Pavano said after throwing his 10th career complete game and sixth shutout.
The right-hander hasn't won five straight starts since Aug. 16-Sept. 10, 2004 with the Marlins and is 9-6 this year with a 3.33 ERA. He is 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA in 10 career starts versus the Rays and will look to go deep into tonight's game after fellow starter Kevin Slowey was forced out of last night's 5-1 victory over the Tigers early.
Slowey left after the sixth inning due a liner hit off the bat of Magglio Ordonez that struck his right ankle. He allowed just one run and four hits before four Minnesota relievers combined to hold Detroit scoreless over the final three innings.
Justin Morneau doubled home a run and connected on a solo homer for the Twins, who took two of three over the Tigers to put themselves 1 1/2 games ahead of the club for first place in the American League Central.
"We weren't worried, we didn't feel pressure to win the series but it's like being in the playoffs a little early," said Delmon Young, who also drove in a run. "Now we have to worry about this upcoming series [with the Rays]."
Tampa Bay comes into this set having won just three of its last nine games, though it did split a two-game series with Boston thanks to last night's 9-4 triumph.
Matt Garza allowed three runs over seven-plus innings and was backed up Sean Rodriguez and Kelly Shoppach, who drove in two runs each, as well as Jason Bartlett's three-run homer that came during a sixth-run eighth inning.
"I'm getting back to basics; going at them, and going at them hard," Garza said. "I got away from that the last month and a half, and it just feels good to be happy with an outing, win or lose."
B.J. Upton was not in the starting lineup for a second straight game. He did have a pinch-hit triple in Tuesday's game versus Boston, but was held out of Wednesday's contest because of a sore right quadriceps.
Jeff Niemann hopes for better luck tonight than his last outing on Friday, when he was on the losing end of Edwin Jackson's no-hitter for the Diamondbacks. Niemann gave up just a run on six hits over 7 1/3 innings with eight strikeouts.
"It's just one of those things," Niemann told Tampa Bay's website after falling to 6-2 with a 2.72 ERA this season. "It's a crazy game, and crazy things happen."
The 27-year-old righty is winless in three starts since winning his first six decisions, but has allowed just three earned runs in his last two starts and is 4-0 with a 3.02 ERA in seven road starts in 2010.
Niemann has faced the Twins twice, going 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in one start and one relief outing.
These two clubs have split their six-game series in each of the last two years, with the Rays losing two of three at Minnesota a season ago.