Twins' bats go quiet in loss to league-leading Astros
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a demotion to Houston's bullpen that never materialized, Mike Fiers pitched as though he still belongs in the rotation.
Jose Altuve had four hits and two RBIs, Fiers struck out eight over six innings, and the major league-leading Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 7-2 on Tuesday night for their season-high sixth straight victory.
"It was very vintage Fiers for when he's right," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "High fastballs and a curveball off that arm slot."
The Twins were no match for the refined curveball that Fiers offered, flailing at it several times out of the strike zone.
"Obviously his numbers aren't great this year, but he's capable," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said, adding: "Don't let the speed deceive you. It works."
Alex Bregman homered and drove in two runs, providing further support for Fiers (2-2) in his best of 10 starts this season.
Fiers was sent to the bullpen last weekend to make room for Brad Peacock, until Charlie Morton landed on the disabled list. With Joe Musgrove joining Morton and Collin McHugh on the shelf Tuesday, the Astros have three absent starters and space anew for Fiers to stay in the starting five.
"You've got to earn your spot here, especially on a first-place team," Fiers said, adding: "This team is special. It really is. No matter how they use me, I just want to be helpful to these guys."
Fiers fell behind 2-0 in the first when Eddie Rosario drew a bases-loaded walk and Byron Buxton followed with an infield single, but the Astros (37-16) hacked their way back against starter Jose Berrios (3-1).
Bregman batted ninth in this stacked batting order.
"We have to give credit to the back of the lineup," Altuve said, "because everybody it seems like is getting hits and scoring runs."
Bregman hit a sacrifice fly in the third. Berrios loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth, allowing only one run thanks to a double play. But in the fifth, Altuve smashed a line drive at third baseman Ehire Adrianza, who missed with a swipe of his glove as the ball landed in left field for a two-run single and a 4-2 lead.
"Sometimes you don't have your best day or your best night, so you have to compete with what you have," Berrios said.
The AL Central-leading Twins have lost four of five games, falling to a league-worst 12-17 at home.
The Twins badly needed their budding star to go deep, after their relievers allowed 19 runs in 11 2/3 innings over the last two games. Berrios gave up five hits and four walks in five innings, his shortest start this year, but Molitor told him he was proud of the effort to minimize the damage.
"The guy just turned 23, and we just hope that he can round out our rotation and give us an opportunity to win," Molitor said. "I'm not going to put stopper along with Jose's name at this juncture."
Altuve has a hit in all 13 games he's played at Target Field, going 28 for 57 for a .491 batting average. He has three or more hits in five of his last six games here.
PROGRESS FOR PERKINS
Twins reliever Glen Perkins faced batters for the first time in more than a year during an encouraging pregame session. The news wasn't as good for fellow veteran pitcher Phil Hughes, whose second opinion on his tight right shoulder revealed the potential of scar tissue buildup that could be causing the discomfort. He'll need further treatment before he can resume throwing.
Astros: Musgrove (right shoulder discomfort) was put on the 10-day DL, retroactive to Saturday. He's eligible to return on June 6 and could miss only one turn.
Twins: 3B Miguel Sano (stomach virus), the team leader in batting average, home runs, RBIs and walks, was scratched before the game and later sent home.
Astros: RHP David Paulino was recalled from Triple-A Fresno to replace Musgrove and make his season debut on Wednesday afternoon. The 6-foot-7 Paulino, one of the organization's top prospects, made one start for the Astros last September.
Twins: RHP Hector Santiago (4-3, 4.07 ERA) will pitch the series finale, three days after an emergency 15th-inning appearance in relief when he gave up back-to-back homers in a defeat against Tampa Bay. He also took the loss on Friday against the Rays, in his previous start.