MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- His timing at the plate was off, so Joe Mauer decided to try a different way to get Minnesota going.
Mauer was Randy Johnson's only strikeout the night before, and his smooth left-handed swing produced a pair of un-Mauer-like whiffs in his first two appearances Saturday against Arizona starter Micah Owings."It felt like my bat was about eight pounds," Mauer said. "I was a little behind."So Mauer surprised the Diamondbacks by dropping down a bunt, and his single started a six-run seventh inning to push Nick Blackburn and the Twins to a 6-1 victory, their fifth straight.The 2006 AL batting champion, Mauer said he made up his mind to bunt when he was in the on-deck circle the inning before, seeing how deep third baseman Mark Reynolds was playing. Reynolds hurt his ankle while batting in the seventh, and defensive standout Augie Ojeda's entrance into the game nearly made Mauer reconsider.But Mauer did it, barely beating out the bunt after an impressive pickup and throw by Ojeda. That started the rally that ruined a solid performance by the previously struggling Owings (6-6)."Anytime you get in the game the ball is going to find you," Ojeda said. "I know Joe likes to bunt, and he's a pretty good bunter. ... I was actually up on the line a little bit. It wasn't like I wasn't expecting it, like I was deep. I don't know how close the play was because I just threw it, but I know it was pretty close. He made a great bunt."Blackburn (6-4) surrendered only three hits, two by Stephen Drew, and struck out three. He threw just 89 pitches, because of the long time he spent on the bench during the outburst in the seventh. Blackburn's start had been pushed back five days, too, to give a sore elbow some extra time to rest."It felt good. It felt strong all night," Blackburn said.After a rough stretch of pitching on their last road trip, the Twins have received several quality starts this week. The rotation is 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA in 34 innings during this streak."We're putting some runs up on the board, and the big thing is our pitchers are giving us a chance," Mauer said. "Hopefully we can continue to do that on both ends."The Twins moved within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central by winning for the eighth time in 10 games.The Diamondbacks still have a healthy 4 1/2-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, but they're having a tough time on the road -- with a 6-16 record over their last 22 games away from Chase Field. Overall, they've won only 12 of 33.The offense has been the biggest culprit."That puts the pressure on the pitching and the defense," manager Bob Melvin said. "When you're not scoring runs you're not putting pressure on the other team."The Twins sent 11 batters to the plate the seventh inning. Brian Buscher hit a two-run double after a passed ball by catcher Chris Snyder, and Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Alexi Casilla also drove in runs with hits. All of those came against Chad Qualls, who relieved Owings with two on and one out.Owings was charged with three runs. He gave up five hits and one walk while striking out three, a clear improvement from his four previous post-Memorial Day appearances. In those four starts, he was 0-3 with 32 hits and 23 runs allowed in 19 innings.The 25-year-old right-hander is one of baseball's best-hitting pitchers, good enough to get 12 chances to pinch hit this season and homer in one of them. He's in a 2-for-23 slump at the plate, though, and Melvin acknowledged before the game that forgetting about the bat for a night might help him find a sharper focus on the mound."That's how this game goes sometimes," Owings said. "I feel like I was more myself tonight. I've been fighting some things, and I'm going to build on this. It was more ... slowed things down and remembered what makes me successful. I just tried to locate and not worry too much about anything else."
Melvin said he decided against leaving Owings in the lineup as designated hitter. Chad Tracy got that assignment instead, and he followed Drew's double in the fourth with an RBI single. ... Twins IF Matt Macri told manager Ron Gardenhire he was available to play after hurting his calf muscle the night before. An MRI exam showed an old strain, but nothing serious. ... Melvin said OF Eric Byrnes, currently on a rehab assignment for his injured hamstrings, remained on track to be activated from the DL on Monday. ... RHP Juan Rincon, designated by the Twins for assignment last week, officially became a free agent. ... Melvin said he thought Reynolds had a "decent chance" of playing Sunday.