The Twins have seen a career track like this before -- by a certain two-time Cy Young Award winner.
"He saved our tails," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Joe Mauer, batting an even .500 over his last seven games, had three more hits including an RBI single in the eighth to give Duensing a cushion he didn't need. The Twins, 18-5 in their last 23 games, stretched their lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central to two games.
Cahill (12-5) matched a modern major league record with his 20th straight start of five innings or more and allowing six hits or fewer. Nolan Ryan did the same in 1972-73 for the California Angels.
But Duensing was a step ahead of him, breezing through the light-hitting A's lineup after an inefficient start. He threw 104 pitches on a night when three right-handed relievers, including closer Matt Capps, were off limits except for emergency because their arms needed rest.
The third-round draft pick of the Twins in 2005, Duensing showed promise as a rookie -- spot starting as an injury replacement and handling the long role in the bullpen. This season he was a situational lefty who got more and more work in late-game jams as he showed his capability, before Nick Blackburn was sent to Triple-A and a spot opened in the rotation.
"I think it's more challenging physically for the arm, but a lot of that comes from being mental, too," Duensing said of the back and forth between starter and reliever. "If you can tell yourself your arm's ready, then it will be."
The Twins plan to bring Blackburn back, but Gardenhire insisted Duensing's spot is safe.
"We like to have too much pitching," the manager said.
Duensing had help from two double plays in the first three innings. He also got a pickoff at second base of Rajai Davis right after the speedy outfielder stole his 36th base. After going 2 for 20 with runners in scoring position the night before, the A's had only one man reach second base -- and that was Davis, who promptly lost his place.
"Didn't hit a whole heck of a lot of balls hard. When we did, they were right at people," A's manager Bob Geren said. "It was not a very good offensive performance. Not at all."
Duensing posted a 1.67 ERA in 39 appearances as a reliever. He is 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts since the switch, raising his career record as a starter to 8-1.
With a deceptive delivery and sharp breaking balls, Duensing can be more effective as a starter with the chance to mix up more of his pitches. That's the same situation Johan Santana was in, when the Twins finally moved him from the bullpen to the rotation in 2003, a year before he won his first Cy Young Award.
"Johan, that's probably a good guy to look at," Gardenhire said, making the comparison.
Though their offense is lacking a lot, pitching is not a problem for the A's with Cahill leading their rotation. He surrendered just one run on six hits and a walk in seven innings. Cahill struck out five, though his streak of 28 straight innings without an earned run ended when the Twins used a vintage manufacturing of a run in the third to take an early lead.
But Cahill, the 22-year-old All-Star who has given the A's plenty of reasons to be excited in his second major league season, was in command throughout his outing.
"You could really see the power of his sinker up close," Geren said. "It's something special. It really is."
The win would have been nice, but matching Ryan's record was cool, too. "It's something kind of special. A record with Nolan Ryan? Yeah, I'd be glad to share it," Cahill said.
Gardenhire said SS Nick Punto (hamstring) would probably be activated after Sunday's game. J.J. Hardy (wrist) is available to play, but the Twins would prefer to wait until Tuesday when they start another critical three-game series against the White Sox. ... Oakland rookie Chris Carter is still looking for his first major league hit. He's 0 for 16 with seven strikeouts.