As AL Central champions four of the past five seasons, a .500 record is not what the Minnesota Twins are seeking. Getting back to that point, however, is now a necessary step.
The Twins seek a season-high fourth straight victory Saturday night as they continue a three-game home series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
It was the third straight win and fifth in seven games for Minnesota (23-24), which hasn’t been .500 since it was 17-17 after play on May 10.
“You have to get a few breaks here and there,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
With 2006 AL batting champion Joe Mauer sidelined with a strained left quadriceps, there has been added pressure on Hunter to produce. The 11-year veteran center fielder has responded in a big way, hitting five homers and driving in 19 runs in his last 11 games.
Reigning league MVP Justin Morneau has also helped pick up the slack with eight homers and 17 RBIs in his last 16 contests.
Mauer - sidelined since May 4 - has been running lightly, taking batting practice and catching bullpen sessions, but isn’t ready to return.
“We’ll continue that process until he tells us he’s ready to go,” Gardenhire said.
Minnesota received 3 2-3 scoreless innings from its bullpen Friday, a good sign after relievers Jesse Crain, Glen Perkins and Denys Reyes each went on the disabled list with shoulder injuries over the past 10 days.
“It’s tough to replace that,” right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “Hopefully guys will be able to step up.”
Getting Ramon Ortiz (3-4, 5.36 ERA) back on track would help the fourth-place Twins in their quest to close the gap in the Central.
Ortiz was a pleasant surprise with a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts, but has allowed five runs or more in each of his past four appearances. He has been reached for 11 runs and 17 hits over only 5 1-3 innings in his last two starts.
On Sunday, allowed five runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings at Milwaukee, but did not get charged with the loss in Minnesota’s 6-5 defeat.
He is 4-7 with a 4.73 ERA in 13 career starts against the Blue Jays.
Toronto’s Frank Thomas homered for the second straight day Friday. With 494 home runs, he moved past Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff into sole possession of 21st place on baseball’s career list.
Thomas is 6-for-13 with two home runs against Ortiz.
Alex Rios continues to swing a hot bat for Toronto. He is hitting .524 (11-for-21) with nine runs scored during a six-game hitting streak.
Blue Jays (21-26) starter Tomo Ohka (2-4, 5.52) makes his first appearance since May 14. The right-hander was demoted to the bullpen at that time, but did not appear in relief.
In his last outing, Ohka allowed three runs and five hits over five innings at Baltimore before leaving without a decision. He is 0-1 with a 8.10 ERA in two career starts against Minnesota.
Hunter has two homers in three career at-bats versus Ohka.
The Blue Jays have alternated wins and losses in their last eight games.