Dean’s solid first start helps Twins bust eight-game home losing streak
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins turned to unlikely sources to rally for an unlikely win on Saturday.
Eduardo Nunez homered to cap a five-run eighth inning as the Twins suddenly broke loose to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3.
The comeback was sparked by a makeshift outfield that included two minor league free agents and a shortstop-turned-backup center fielder. Nunez is filling in at shortstop for the injured Eduardo Escobar.
"It’s been kind of crazy. There’ve been a lot of changes. A lot of us that were in (Triple-A) Rochester are up here now," said right fielder Darrin Mastroianni, who scored the tying run after walking in the eighth. "It’s just part of baseball. You’ve got to make adjustments and we’re doing that on the fly here. I think things are starting to turn for us."
The Twins had been shut out on just one hit — a double by Nunez — by J.A. Happ (5-2) and trailed 2-0 going into the eighth. Their comeback gave them only their fourth win in 21 games.
"You always speculate and you can be hopeful," Twins manager Paul Molitor said when asked if he thought his team was showing signs of breaking out of its season-long malaise. "A lot of times it depends on how your next starting pitcher does."
The rally started with a leadoff single by Robbie Grossman, who was playing just his second game with the Twins. Mastroianni, who received a non-roster invitation to spring training and did not break camp with the Twins, walked to put the tying run on base.
After Kurt Suzuki popped up a bunt, Danny Santana tied it with a two-run double on Happ’s last pitch. Reliever Gavin Floyd hit Brian Dozier with his first pitch and Nunez followed with a three-run homer.
Fernando Abad (1-0) threw two pitches and picked up the win. He entered the game with one out in the eighth and got Justin Smoak to hit into a double play.
Pat Dean pitched six strong innings for the Twins in his first major league start. The lefty gave up two runs on three hits and three walks and struck out five.
"It was a solid six innings for us," said Molitor, whose pitchers entered the game with the worst ERA in the American League. "It picked us up, for sure."
Toronto slugger Jose Bautista homered for the 13th time in 20 games at Target Field. Michael Saunders homered in the ninth off Kevin Jepsen, who got his third save.
Bautista hit his ninth homer, a two-run drive in the third inning. After Darwin Barney hit a one-out double, Dean hung a slider that Bautista sent into the second deck in left field.
Happ was coming off his shortest start of the year, when he lasted just two innings in a loss to the Rays on Monday. He now has lost consecutive games, though he pitched much better this time out.
"It’s hard to say they were better than us today, but that’s the fact of the matter," Happ said. "A groundball, and a walk and a slap hit, and that’s the game. It’s tough to take. Other than the eighth inning, I felt really good about it."
Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson had an abbreviated appearance. He was ejected by home plate umpire Toby Basner in the top of the first. Donaldson, batting second, was retired on an infield grounder. He was jawing with the Twins dugout as he passed home plate on his way back to his dugout and Basner immediately tossed him.
"It’s tough," said Donaldson, who hit one of Toronto’s four homers on Friday. "Our guys are out there, you know, we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves the past couple of days and then for me to get ejected coming off a pretty good night last night, it’s not something you want to do."
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer got a routine day off with the left-handed Happ starting for Toronto. Mauer had played in all 41 of the Twins’ games this season, starting 39 and coming off the bench twice.
"We’ve been on a swing of right-handed pitchers here for 10 days or so," Molitor said. "(Saturday is) a day where, day game after a night game, lefty going, we kind of earmarked that for him."
Mauer was hitting .323 on May 4, but has gone 7 for 48 since, dropping his batting average to .265.
Blue Jays: LHP Aaron Loup (forearm flexor strain) began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday. He has not pitched in a major league game yet this season.
Twins: RHP Alex Meyer (shoulder) has not pitched since being optioned to Triple-A Rochester on May 4, but on Sunday he’s expected to throw his second bullpen session in three days. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that Meyer is being prepped for a return to the starting rotation.
The teams wrap up their four-game series on Sunday, with the Twins sending RHP Phil Hughes (1-6, 5.70) to the mound against Toronto RHP Marcus Stroman (4-1, 4.23).