Willingham, Plouffe back Pelfrey's win in Twins debut
Right-hander throws 5 1/3 innings, earns first victory since August 2011
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was only three games, but the early returns on the Twins' rebuilt pitching staff were certainly good against the Tigers in the club's first series of the year.
New additions Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey combined for a 2.45 ERA and gave up just three extra-base hits in 18 1/3 innings to help the Twins to a series win over the defending AL Central champions.
Pelfrey picked up the victory in the series finale, as he was solid in his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe both homered to help lead the Twins to an 8-2 win over the Tigers on Thursday at Target Field.
"These first three have all given us good performances," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We know it's a long, long season but it's a good start. Three good starts in a row is huge for our baseball team. We talked about that enough in the winter. We just want them to give us a chance."
Pelfrey, who had the surgery performed on May 1, 2012, didn't give up an earned run in his Twins debut. The right-hander gave up two unearned runs on five hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings in his first outing since April 21, 2012, and his first victory since Aug. 24, 2011.
"It felt good," Pelfrey said. "Always going into a year, whether you're coming back from injury or not, it's always good to get that first one out of the way. It went good. We got a 'W' and won the series, which is huge."
Aaron Hicks added to the Twins' firsts, as his first career hit, a two-run single in the eighth, capped the scoring. Hicks was hitless in his first 11 at-bats with seven strikeouts.
Two errors led to the Tigers' runs, as Joe Mauer made a throwing error in the first inning trying to throw out Austin Jackson as he attempted to steal second. Jackson reached third on the throw and scored on an RBI groundout by Torii Hunter.
Pedro Florimon made the other error on a bad throw on a routine grounder hit to shortstop by Hunter. Hunter reached second on the play and came around to score on an RBI single from Miguel Cabrera.
But Willingham tied the game at 2 in the third inning with one swing against Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello. Willingham launched a two-run blast to give the Twins their first homer of the season.
Plouffe then gave the Twins a 3-2 lead on a solo shot to left with one out in the fourth. It marked the ninth time the two have homered in the same game dating back to last year.
"That's what good hitters do when you fall behind and you miss with fastballs over the plate," said Porcello, who gave up three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. "That was just a product of two poorly pitched at-bats on my part."
Reliever Jared Burton and Ryan Pressly, in his Major League debut, each threw a scoreless inning to seal the win.
Chris Parmelee's single off Fielder's glove scored Justin Morneau in the eighth to give the Twins a 4-2 lead, and then Florimon drove in Parmelee and Ryan Doumit on a single to left before Hicks drove in two more on his sharp single to right.
The Tigers wasted a prime scoring opportunity in the seventh, when reliever Josh Roenicke loaded the bases with one out after an intentional walk to Cabrera. Left-handed reliever Tyler Robertson came in and struck out Prince Fielder for the second out before right-hander Casey Fien was able to get out of the inning by getting Victor Martinez to pop out to second.
"Joe [Mauer] told me he thought I could throw a couple fastballs as long as I threw them away," Robertson said about striking out Fielder. "He's a good fastball hitter and I was able to throw him two pretty good ones and I think it surprised him. It sped him up a little bit and I was able to get him out with my slider."
The win improved the Twins to 2-1 this year, and marked the first time the club has been above .500 since the last game of the 2010 season.
"I think after the last couple of years it's important for us to get off to a good start," Pelfrey said. "I know the expectations outside the clubhouse aren't the greatest, but everyone in here believes in each other and knows what we're capable of."