Scott Baker wants to make his mark in Minnesota’s playoff chase during the second half of the season.
The right-hander did exactly that in his first start after the All-Star break against the slumping Texas Rangers.
Baker allowed a run in eight innings and Michael Cuddyer homered as the Twins handed the Rangers their fourth straight loss, 4-1 Saturday night.
“I won’t say it was crucial or anything, but it was definitely in the direction I want to be headed,” said Baker, whose ERA dropped from 5.42 to 5.10. “I want to have a big impact on this team in the second half. It’ll definitely start with pitching.”
Baker (8-7) retired the last nine batters he faced after Marlon Byrd singled leading off the sixth. He allowed six hits and struck out eight to win for the fourth time in five starts.
Joe Nathan took over in the ninth and pitched a scoreless inning for his 25th save in 27 chances. Nathan has not allowed a run in his last 23 2-3 innings dating back to May 21.
“Things are starting to click these last few starts,” Baker said. “I’m definitely excited about the second half.”
Cuddyer gave the Twins the lead with an RBI double, then added a solo homer in the fifth.
Minnesota is within two games of the first-place Detroit in the American League Central after the Tigers lost their second straight to the New York Yankees.
The Twins (47-44), who have won 12 of 17 on the road after starting 7-19, are a season-best three games over .500 for the second time this season.
Minnesota is 2-0 on a 10-game road trip that includes stops in Oakland and Anaheim.
“We started out so bad, but we knew that was an abberation,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We knew we weren’t that bad a road team. Now we’re trying to make up ground and get back even on the road.
Scott Feldman (8-3) had his three-game winning streak snapped. The right-hander gave up three runs, five hits and struck out five over six innings.
Nelson Cruz, a finalist in this week’s home run derby, hit a solo shot and went 3 for 4 for the Rangers, who fell three games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
The Ranger, who had seven hits, have lost five of six and four games to the Angels in the standings since July 8. In those six games, Texas is hitting .192 (37 for 193).
“It would be a great thing if we could hit as well as we did last year,” said Josh Hamilton, who struck out three times against Baker. “All we can do is get our work in and hope it carries over into games.”
Cuddyer doubled off the wall in left to bring home Justin Morneau, who walked leading off the second. Carlos Gomez added an RBI single to make it 2-0.
Cruz hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot with two outs in the fourth that cut Minnesota’s lead to 2-1.
The Rangers were hitless in seven tries with runners in scoring position.
“The name of the game is scoring runs,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “We’re not putting up enough runs to win right now.”
Cuddyer led off the fifth with his 15th homer of the season.
With two outs in the eighth, Morneau hit an RBI single to extend the Twins‘ advantage to 4-1.
Gardenhire was ejected in the bottom of the ninth by first base umpire Gary Cederstrom for arguing whether Cruz was out on an infield hit.
Rangers 3B Michael Young‘s single in the third was his 1,596th career hit, passing Juan Gonzalez for third on the Rangers list behind Ivan Rodriguez (1,723) and Rafael Palmeiro (1,692). … Twins RHP Kevin Slowey threw long toss from 150 feet on Saturday in his rehab from a strained right wrist. Slowey was originally scheduled for a bullpen session on Saturday, but trainers put that off until Monday. Slowey has been on the 15-day DL since July 4. … Minnesota 3B Joe Crede left the game in the eighth with a sore shoulder. He hurt it diving for a ball Friday night.