DETROIT -- Brad Penny is trying to work faster, taking less time between pitches when he's on the mound.
Of course, the only real way to speed up the game is by getting the other team out.
Penny allowed four runs in the first inning but managed to settle down, and his Detroit teammates slugged their way back from the early deficit, beating the Minnesota Twins 8-4 on Friday night. Penny allowed hits to five of the first 10 hitters he faced -- then no more after that. The game was played in a reasonably brisk 2 hours, 46 minutes -- following a 51-minute rain delay at the start.
"It felt good, except for the two-hour inning I had out there," Penny joked. "I'm switching some things with my hands and trying to be a little quicker, and I felt for the most part, I was."
Alex Avila hit a three-run homer in the second inning and Ramon Santiago added a two-run shot in the fourth for the Tigers, who won their seventh straight game. Detroit's magic number to clinch the AL Central is 10, and the Tigers lead second-place Chicago by 9½ games.
Detroit has won 17 of 21.
"This team, they've been doing this all year. They're going to score a lot of runs," Penny said. "If you can keep them somewhat close, you've got a chance to win."
Penny (10-10) allowed four runs and five hits in five innings.
Kevin Slowey (0-5) allowed six runs and seven hits in four innings.
The Twins have lost six of seven and 15 of 19.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said before the game he'd talked to Penny about picking up the pace and not working so slowly. Whatever adjustments Penny made didn't seem to be working in the first inning. Jason Kubel hit an RBI single, Danny Valencia followed with a two-run triple, and Chris Parmelee added an RBI single to make it 4-0.
The first two Minnesota hitters in the second inning reached base, but Penny got out of that jam.
"He didn't have much more margin for error," Leyland said. "That I can promise you."
In Penny's previous start, Detroit rallied from an 8-1 deficit to beat the White Sox 9-8, and the Tigers didn't stay down for long in this one. Avila started the comeback with an opposite-field homer, his 18th of the season. Then, in the fourth, Wilson Betemit tied it with an RBI triple.
Santiago followed with his fifth homer of the season to make it 6-4. He's hit four of those homers since Aug. 14 -- about the time Detroit began pulling away from the rest of the division.
"There's a point when you have so much confidence in your offense that you are never going to panic when you get behind early," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I imagine that's how they must be feeling right now -- that they are swinging the bats so well that they are always going to have a chance to come back."
Delmon Young -- traded from the Twins to the Tigers last month -- added a solo homer in the fifth to make it 7-4. Young has eight homers on the season, including four in only 23 games with Detroit.
Minnesota's Joe Mauer started at catcher, the first time he's played the position since Aug. 20. He's played only 78 games this season because of a variety of injuries. Mauer singled and scored in the first, but was charged with a passed ball in the eighth.
Brandon Inge hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth to make it 8-4, denying Jose Valverde a chance to set a new franchise record for saves. Valverde has 42 this season, equaling Todd Jones' mark from 2000.
Valverde pitched the ninth anyway.
Twins OF Ben Revere looked like he might be hurt after an inside pitch around his right wrist in the seventh, but he stayed in the game. Daniel Schlereth, the Detroit pitcher, said he thought the ball hit the bat. "Pretty good acting job," Schlereth said. ... The Tigers officially placed OF Brennan Boesch on the 15-day disabled list. Boesch is not expected back this season after surgery on his right thumb. ... Minnesota LHP Francisco Liriano, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, is expected to throw a bullpen session Sunday. ... ... Max Scherzer (14-8) takes the mound for Detroit on Saturday against Minnesota's Anthony Swarzak (3-6). ... The Tigers are 12-4 against the Twins this year.