In just three starting appearances, Livan Hernandez appears to have made a seamless transition to the American League. That’s good news for the Minnesota Twins, who’ll be looking to their new No. 1 starter to help them snap a three-game losing skid.
Hernandez will try for his fourth victory in as many starts when the Twins host the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of a two-game set on Wednesday.
After spending his first 12 major league seasons with NL clubs, Hernandez (3-0, 2.57 ERA) signed a free-agent contract with the Twins (6-8) in late February.
The right-hander, though, hasn’t had any problems adjusting to the AL, yielding a total of seven runs and 21 hits, while walking only one in his three 2008 starts. He has also tossed seven innings in each outing.
“Everything is going the way I want it. Everything is working perfect right now,” said Hernandez, who has also filled the void left after the Twins traded left-hander Johan Santana to the New York Mets.
Hernandez is coming off his most impressive effort, limiting Kansas City to seven hits in seven innings in a 5-0 road victory on Friday. It allowed him to open 3-0 for the first time since 2002, when he won his first four starts for San Francisco.
“He’s a veteran and he knows how to change speeds and locate the ball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s what he does. No matter how many times you face him, if you’re locating like he did tonight and changing speeds like he did tonight and given the variety, they couldn’t really sit on one thing.”
Hernandez now looks to win four straight decisions for the first time since May 21-June 5, 2006 while playing for Washington, but he hasn’t had the best of luck against Tampa Bay (6-8), going just 2-2 with a 5.77 ERA in six career starts.
The Twins went 3-4 against Tampa Bay last season, splitting four matchups at the Metrodome, where they are 11-2 versus the Rays since July 21, 2004.
Minnesota, 3-4 as a host so far, returns for a five-game homestand after dropping three straight contests, including Tuesday’s 6-5 loss at Detroit.
“It was another one of those games that we let get away in the end,” Gardenhire said. “The last two nights we did enough, had the lead but just couldn’t hold it.”
Tampa Bay is also coming off a pair of losses to the New York Yankees, capped by Tuesday’s 5-3 defeat.
“We gave ourselves a lot of chances and we couldn’t finish it off,” first baseman Carlos Pena said of the Rays, who totaled 10 hits but also left nine on base.
They will send James Shields (1-1, 3.00) to the mound after he gave up two runs and seven hits, but did not receive a decision in six innings of Friday’s 10-5 home victory over Baltimore.
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA in two starts against the Twins. In his only appearance at the Metrodome, he surrendered three runs and nine hits, but also struck out eight in 7 1-3 innings of a 6-4 win on May 3.
Morneau and Mauer have combined to go just 1-for-11 against Shields, but they’ve each enjoyed overall success against Tampa Bay.
Morneau has hit .343 (34-for-99) with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 25 all-time meetings, while Mauer has batted .358 (24-for-67) with three homers and 14 RBIs in 19 games.