MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – It had been nearly two months since Joe Saunders pitched in the majors and 10 days since his last rehab start in the minor leagues.
So it was understandable if he was a little shaky early in his return to the Texas Rangers rotation.
He spent most of the outing searching for his best stuff, but still managed to shut down the struggling Minnesota Twins offense.
Saunders pitched five scoreless innings and Luis Sardinas drove in the only run of the game to lift the Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Twins on Wednesday night.
"It was a battle for the first time coming back in almost two months," Saunders said. "It was a struggle, but I made some good pitches, got some clutch strikeouts against some pretty good hitters and kept the team right where it needed to be."
Saunders gave up five hits and struck out six after being activated from the 15-day disabled list earlier in the day.
"I had to take a step back there in the first inning, relax and calm the nerves a little bit," Saunders said. "It’s been a long time coming for me. It’s the longest I’ve ever been out. It was a good start."
Sardinas had a two-out single off struggling Twins reliever Jared Burton (1-2) in the seventh inning to help propel the Rangers to their seventh win in the past 10 games.
Kyle Gibson gave up six hits and struck out four in six scoreless innings, but the Twins left nine runners on base and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Joe Mauer went 0 for 4.
Shawn Tolleson (1-1) pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings of relief for the win and Joakim Soria picked up his ninth save in 10 tries, one night after his error in the ninth inning led to his first blown save of the season.
Saunders had only made one other start this season, but he took a line drive from Evan Longoria off his left ankle in his season debut on April 4. Saunders made four rehab starts and had his breaking ball working in his return to the Rangers rotation on Wednesday night.
Saunders stranded seven baserunners, including getting Brian Dozier to fly out with the bases loaded in the second. With his pitch count at 97 after five innings, manager Ron Washington elected to go to the bullpen rather than push Saunders too hard in his first start back.
"He’s a competitor and he had to compete tonight, especially early in the game when they could’ve done some damage," Washington said.
Gibson was just as sharp, allowing just one extra-base hit and breezing through six. But he didn’t get any help from a slumping offense that has scored just 10 runs in the past six games.
Mauer had a chance in the seventh inning with the tying run on third base and two outs, but he chased a breaking ball for strike three and heard boos from a frustrated hometown fan base. Mauer is hitting .277 with 15 RBIs and six doubles on the season.
"I feel pretty good actually, which is even more frustrating," said Mauer, who has been dealing with a sore back for parts of the season. "I’m hitting a lot of balls hard and just not having much to show for it. So hopefully that turns here soon. just got to try to have some good at bats, keep having good at-bats and hopefully they start falling."
Elvis Andrus was ejected in the sixth inning after he muttered something to home plate umpire Pat Hoberg regarding a low strike called earlier in his at-bat. It was the second ejection of the season for Andrus and Washington moved Sardinas from second base to shortstop and put Rougned Odor at second base to fill the hole.
NOTES: Twins CF Aaron Hicks was a late scratch with a back issue, forcing manager Ron Gardenhire to start SS Danny Santana in CF. … While on a rehab assignment for a groin injury, Twins RHP Mike Pelfrey felt soreness in his shoulder and was brought to Minnesota for examination. Another stint on the disabled list is likely after the Twins diagnose the injury. … Alex Rios extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the fourth. … Gardenhire challenged a play in the seventh inning when Leonys Martin was ruled safe on a steal. Gardenhire claimed Dozier applied the tag, but the play was upheld after a 51-second review.