MINNEAPOLIS -- Right-hander Aaron Slegers handed the ball to Minnesota manager Paul Molitor and headed straight to the dugout, as he attempted to shield his facial expression under his cap in the seventh inning on Thursday.
The fans at Target Field rose to their feet, rewarding him with a lengthy round of applause after his efforts in the nightcap of the twin bill with the Indians. In his Major League debut, Slegers held the American League Central leaders to two runs on as many hits across 6 1/3 innings in the eventual 4-2 win.
It was Minnesota's first victory over Cleveland at Target Field after dropping the previous nine, including a 9-3 decision in Game 1 of the doubleheader.
"It was much needed for Aaron to come up here, given the circumstances," Molitor said. "I'm not sure if he knows all of what has transpired between us and that team on this particular field this year."
A fielding mishap later in the seventh ruined Slegers' bid at the victory in his inaugural big league action. But his performance on the mound was a warm welcome for a rotation that has struggled as of late.
The 6 1/3-inning outing was the longest by a Twins starter in his debut since Yohan Pino spun seven frames against the White Sox on June 19, 2014. Slegers became the first Minnesota starter to record an out in the sixth inning since Bartolo Colon did so on Aug. 9, a span of six outings. It was just the seventh time a starter has accomplished the feat in 16 games this month.
"I was surprised how once the game actually started, I was able to control my heart rate and my emotions pretty well," Slegers said. "It just about all spilled over when I came out of the game there in the seventh."
The 6-foot-10 hurler had to patiently wait his chance during the first game of the doubleheader. And then he certainly made the most of it when he finally stepped on the mound.
Slegers faced 11 batters and recorded 11 outs before surrendering his first hit, in the fourth. Cleveland's Jay Bruce launched a full-count fastball into the right-field stands to snap the drought against the rookie.
Rather than get rattled, Slegers stayed composed. He retired eight of the next nine Tribe batters he faced before a single by Edwin Encarnacion, which was enough to warrant a mound visit from Molitor and bring Slegers' night to a close.
"I was about as close as you can cry without crying when I was walking off the mound there and the crowd started standing up and applauding," Slegers said. "That was a pretty special moment."
Slegers will return to Triple-A Rochester for the time being after serving as the 26th man for Thursday's tilt.
But Slegers could find himself back with the club during a postseason push after pitching a gem in his debut on a night when the Twins needed it the most.
"I knew the team has been making a huge surge in the Wild Card, it's a little larger stage than the Wild Card race we have going in Triple-A," Slegers said.