MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Justin Verlander showed some rust in his return. The results weren't great, albeit against a hot-hitting opponent.
That award-winning right shoulder looked relaxed, though, and the sight of Verlander on the mound gave the sputtering Detroit Tigers a spark.
''He knows how to pitch. He knows what he's doing. He can kind of contain the situation, and I think he did that well,'' said Torii Hunter, who had three of Detroit's 17 hits.
Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez each had three hits, too, and Joe Nathan notched his 27th save in 32 attempts despite an RBI double by Brian Dozier in the ninth. Verlander (11-11) improved to 5-0 in seven career starts at Target Field.
With two outs and two on in the sixth inning, manager Brad Ausmus came for the ball and was greeted with an icy stare as Blaine Hardy arrived from the bullpen.
''I wanted to finish the game, but I knew what he was seeing. Obviously I've been off for a while and fatigue was a factor there and we really couldn't let this game slip away from us,'' said Verlander, whose last turn was skipped because of shoulder soreness.
He was removed after one inning the start before that Aug. 11 at Pittsburgh, when Ausmus said he looked like he was throwing darts to protect the joint. Here, his motion was free and easy, and his changeup was diving.
''He wouldn't be Justin Verlander if he didn't push back when he's being taken out. He does not like to come out of games, and I think that's great,'' Ausmus said.
Coupled with their 12-4 loss to the Twins in the afternoon, the Tigers dropped to a season-most three games behind first-place Kansas City in the AL Central. They also fell to a game behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot.
In the opener, Twins rookie Kennys Vargas drove in five runs and starter Yohan Pino (2-5) struck out six in five innings.
So after the Tigers gave up a total of 32 runs and 34 hits while throwing a whopping 398 pitches in losing the first two games of the series, they badly needed the old Verlander to come through in this one.
''I'm extremely happy he got a win in his first start back,'' Ausmus said.
Minnesota rookie Trevor May (0-3) completed five innings for the first time in four career starts, but he didn't hold his 4-2 lead after a two-run double by Trevor Plouffe in the third inning.
Eugenio Suarez's broken-bat, two-run single pushed the Tigers in front 5-4, and Jared Burton was summoned from the bullpen. Castellanos hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run single in the seventh off Burton to add to the lead.
Vargas finished the day with six RBIs and has driven in 23 runs in his first 22 major league games, all this month.
The Twins scored seven runs in the opener off Tigers starter Buck Farmer (0-1), who managed only four outs. He gave up six runs in the second, while the Twins batted around for the third time in a span of nine innings.
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera's bothersome right ankle flared up a bit near the end of the long day, and Ausmus said he'd consider keeping the slugger out of the series finale to give him two straight days off with no game Monday. ''Obviously we'd prefer to have Miggy in the lineup, but his health is more important,'' Ausmus said.
Twins: Joe Mauer is still receiving daily treatment for the strained muscle on his right side that kept him out for 34 games. He stretched his streak of reaching base, the longest active in the majors, to 25 games and drove in four runs for the day. ''I feel good. I'm seeing the ball well,'' said Mauer, who's hitting .327 with 11 RBIs in 13 games since coming off the DL.
The Tigers will try to split the series by sending reigning Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (14-4, 3.07 ERA) to the mound Sunday afternoon. Kyle Gibson (11-9, 4.13 ERA) pitches for the Twins.