MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Torii Hunter showed his teammates why he’d rather play center field than be the designated hitter.
Playing center field for just the second time in over a week, Hunter threw out Scott Spiezio at the plate to end the seventh inning and preserve Minnesota’s 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.
Hunter, a Gold Glove winner, has been relegated to a designated hitter role since reaggravating his right hamstring May 4, an injury that originally sent him to the disabled list April 7-24. He went 0-for-4, but made the big play.
“When I go 0-for-4 as a DH, I feel like I didn’t even earn my paycheck,” Hunter said. “But if I go help the team win with my defense, something that I’m known for, then I’ll take an 0-for-4 any day.”
The Mariners had runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh when pinch-hitter Dan Wilson looped a single into center field. As Spiezio rounded third base, Hunter made a throw that reached catcher Henry Blanco on the fly. Blanco moved up a half-step to make sure the ball didn’t skip on the dirt, then lunged back to tag Spiezio on the arm as he tried to slide around Blanco’s glove.
“I was running no matter what,” Spiezio said. “We forced him to make an absolutely perfect throw, and he did.
“I was asking (Twins) third-base coach (Al Newman) if he makes those throws all the time,” Spiezio added. “He said yeah, but they’re usually on one hop.”
Blanco alertly maneuvered himself into position catch the relay on the fly and apply the tag.
“I didn’t want to get a short hop,” Blanco said. “I didn’t want to drop the ball and let the guy get behind me and score the run. I wanted to make sure I caught the ball and made the tag.”
Johan Santana pitched seven scoreless innings to get the win, recovering from a shaky outing Sunday when he gave up four home runs in Oakland.
“I was able to throw my fastball for strikes today,” Santana said of the difference in his last two games. “When you don’t have command of your fastball, then you’re in trouble.
“We took a different approach today. Last time I threw too many sliders and changeups. Today I threw the fastball early in the game, early in counts. I told Henry that wasn’t me the last time I pitched.”
Santana (2-0) allowed six hits, walked two and struck out five, and got help from Terry Mulholland, J.C. Romero and Joe Nathan to complete the eight-hitter. Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 10th save.
The Twins lost their last three series before completing their first home sweep of the Mariners in 12 years.
Ryan Franklin (2-3) worked seven strong innings for Seattle, allowing one run on seven hits while walking one and striking out six, but the last-place Mariners lost for the fifth time in seven games and fell to 12-22 overall, 10 1/2 games behind Anaheim in the AL West.
“We’re probably at the point where we’re getting negative thoughts in our heads,” Franklin said of the team’s early slump. “But we’ve got to think positive”
The Mariners had 36 hits in the series, but 34 of them were singles, and the eighth inning Thursday was indicative of their struggles to come up with the timely extra-base hit.
But Romero—who allowed four runs while getting only one out against Seattle on Tuesday—coaxed Raul Ibanez to hit into a fielder’s choice that retired Santiago at the plate, then struck out Spiezio to end the inning.
“I’ll give him credit,” Spiezio said. “I saw a lot of pitches in thatat-bat and he didn’t make one mistake.”
The Twins face the AL Central-rival White Sox for the first time this season in a three-game series at Chicago beginning Friday. … Santana has not lost a game since July 23 against Kansas City. … Suzuki had two singles to boost his current hitting streak to 12 games. … Cristian Guzman had two singles and now has hit safely in all 10 games when he’s batted second in the Twins’ lineup. … Seattle was 5-1 against the Twins in the Metrodome lastyear.