Rays-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

Since Evan Longoria returned earlier this week, the Tampa Bay Rays have started to build some momentum.

The Minnesota Twins would like nothing more than to stop it.

Tampa Bay goes for its first four-game winning streak in two months Friday night when it opens a three-game series in Minneapolis.

Back the last three games after missing 85 due to a partially torn left hamstring, Longoria went 4 for 12 with three RBIs - all out of the designated hitter spot instead of his usual third base - to help the Rays (59-52) complete a sweep of Toronto.

The Rays, who last won four straight June 7-10, had suffered consecutive shutout losses to Baltimore immediately prior to Longoria's return. They put 14 runs on the board against the Blue Jays, half coming in Thursday's 7-1 victory.

"With the addition of guys like Longo, I think everybody else is able to relax a bit and gain some confidence, and once you're able to do that, things start rolling,'' outfielder Matt Joyce said.

The Rays' rotation has been on a roll, posting a 1.34 ERA over the last 11 games. The bullpen has been even better, with a 0.84 ERA during that span.

Friday's starter Jeremy Hellickson (6-7, 3.43 ERA) would like to give the relievers a break after he was pulled after four innings in his last outing, a 4-0 loss to the Orioles on Saturday.

Hellickson, who'd yielded a total of one run and five hits while winning his previous two outings, surrendered four runs, eight hits and four walks to Baltimore.

The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA in three starts against the Twins. Tampa Bay took two of three at home against Minnesota from April 20-22, but Hellickson did not pitch in that series.

The Twins (49-62) may be poised for better results in this three-game set as they return home from a 5-2 trip.

Minnesota has won nine of 13, averaging 6.5 runs in that stretch, immediately following a 5-13 skid that dropped the club a season-high 18 games below .500.

"If you start looking at it with the hole we had, we've been playing pretty good baseball for a good while here, and we're still 13 games under .500," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins' official website after Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Cleveland. "... We feel like we're better than that, but we're not. That's what our record says. So the goal is to keep winning series and get back to .500."

That could be wishful thinking at this point, but the Twins could still put a dent in opposing teams' playoff chances.

"You want to win games, so if you're spoilers, you're spoilers, but we're playing to win," left-hander Brian Duensing said.

Probable Friday starter Cole De Vries (2-2, 3.81) didn't get a decision in Saturday's 6-4 win at Boston but pitched well, allowing two runs in seven innings. The rookie right-hander, who has no decisions in his last four starts but has given up two runs or fewer in three of them, has never faced the Rays.

Minnesota's Joe Mauer is batting .375 in 40 career games versus Tampa Bay after going 4 for 11 in the April series. He has never faced Hellickson.

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