Baltimore (28-33) at Minnesota (26-33)

Fair Currently: Minneapolis, MN
Temp: 49° F
  • Game info: 8:10 pm EDT Fri Jun 9, 2006
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Joe Mauer is playing the best baseball of his young career. If only the Minnesota Twins could follow his lead.

The Twins (26-33) try to turn things around when they open a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles (28-33) at the Metrodome on Friday.

Minnesota begins a six-game homestand following a 3-7 road trip during which it lost series to the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland and Seattle. The Twins’ 10-24 road record is among the AL’s worst.

The Twins have fared much better at the Metrodome, however, going 16-9 there this season and winning eight of their last 11 games, including three in a row.

While Minnesota’s success appears dependent on location, the team’s 23-year-old catcher is playing well everywhere. Mauer leads the major leagues with a .379 batting average, including .413 (50-for-121) on the road, and has a hit in all but nine of his games this season.

He was 9-for-12 in the Twins’ three-game series with Seattle, including a 3-for-4 effort in Thursday’s 7-3 victory, and reached base 13 times in 15 plate appearances.

“You don’t get the opportunity to see guys swing this hot a bat very often,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “So you’ve got to enjoy it while you can.”

Mauer, who has a hit in 16 of his last 17 games and is batting .507 (36-for-71) in that stretch, seems to be tempering his enjoyment with perspective.

“I always wanted to get to the big leagues,” said Mauer, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft. “I’m just trying to stay up here for a while.”

Rodrigo Lopez (4-7, 6.75 ERA) will try to shut down Mauer’s hot bat and win his fourth consecutive start when he takes the ball for Baltimore. The right-hander lost six straight starts from April 25-May 20, posting an 8.73 ERA in that span, but has rebounded to win three consecutive outings with a 3.05 ERA.

Lopez blanked the New York Yankees through six innings Sunday before allowing four runs in the seventh, but Baltimore went on to an 11-4 win. He gave up seven hits over 6 2-3 innings.

“Rodrigo has been consistent the last three starts hitting the corners and keeping the ball down,” said Orioles backup catcher Javy Lopez, who’s been behind the plate for the right-hander’s last three starts.

Lopez is 1-0 with a 3.14 ERA in two career starts against the Twins, recording two walks and 10 strikeouts through 14 1-3 innings.

Baltimore capped its 5-5 homestand with a 7-5 comeback victory over Toronto on Thursday, using a three-run eighth inning to earn a split of the four-game series.

The Orioles, who are opening a 10-game trip, have also struggled on the road with a 9-16 mark. They have won just five of their last 20 games away from home and have been held to three runs or less in 14 of those contests.

Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada will try to extend his hitting streak to 12 games Friday when he faces Twins starter Brad Radke (4-7, 6.42).

The Minnesota right-hander is 0-3 in his last four starts, but is coming off one of his best performances of the season. Radke gave up one earned run in seven innings Saturday, but suffered a 2-1 loss to Oakland.

“I felt pretty good today,” said Radke, who threw a season-high 108 pitches. “Good changeup, good fastball … just no luck.”

He is 8-5 with a 4.00 ERA in 19 games against the Orioles, and 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA against them at home.

The Twins pitching staff suffered a blow Wednesday when reliever Matt Guerrier fractured the base of his right thumb when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Richie Sexson. The right-hander, who has a 3.34 ERA in 32 1-3 innings, will likely be placed on the disabled list.

Minnesota and Baltimore split six meetings last season, with each team taking two of three at home.

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Starting Pitchers

R. López Phi vs. B. Radke Min
9-18 Record 12-9
5.90 ERA 4.32
136 K 83
59 BB 32
1.55 WHIP 1.41