MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - During this cold, windy opening series at Minnesota, questions about the strength of Detroit's bullpen went unanswered.
The Tigers, though, were equally ineffective at the plate.
Mike Pelfrey pitched into the sixth inning less than a year after having Tommy John surgery, Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe hit home runs and the Twins beat the Tigers 8-2 on Thursday to take two out of three games from the defending American League champions.
The Tigers totaled eight runs and 24 hits in the series, with only three for extra bases, all doubles.
``We just couldn't get the big hit today, myself included. You don't want that to happen all the time,' said Torii Hunter, who struck out with runners at second and third and no outs in the seventh.
Pelfrey (1-0) did not allow an earned run. The former New York Mets first-round draft pick was given a 3-2 lead when Willingham and Plouffe went deep against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (0-1), and five relievers kept it that way for four innings.
Then the Twins broke the game open with a five-run eighth against Brayan Villarreal, when Pedro Florimon hit a two-run double and Aaron Hicks added a two-run single for his first major league hit. Tigers relievers gave up 10 runs over 10 innings in these three games, and coincidentally or not they agreed on a minor-league contract with former closer Jose Valverde before the game.
But aside from another RBI for Miguel Cabrera, his fourth of the year, the Tigers went quietly.
Starting pitching is supposed to be Minnesota's biggest weakness, the primary reason why the Twins lost 195 games the last two years. But Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Pelfrey allowed five earned runs in 18 1-3 innings in this series, a 2.45 ERA.
``I know this team is going to mash. We're going to have some fun and win some games,' Hunter said.
Austin Jackson's double in the seventh was Detroit's first extra-base hit in 21 innings since Hunter's double in the third inning of Monday's opener, the only game the Tigers won. Cabrera was walked intentionally with one out to load the bases. But Prince Fielder struck out on a checked swing against Tyler Robertson and Victor Martinez popped out against Casey Fien to end the threat.
``I'll take my chances with that scenario every time, second and third and nobody out,' manager Jim Leyland said. ``We had some opportunities.'
The 6-foot-7 Pelfrey was a fixture in the Mets' rotation for four-plus seasons until the elbow problem popped up. He made three starts last year before undergoing the ligament replacement procedure. So Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was smiling afterward when describing how he tried to take Pelfrey out after five innings only to be rebuffed.
Dr. James Andrews performed the operation last May 1 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., making Pelfrey's comeback a little more than 11 months. The right-hander gave up two unearned runs, five hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings, with one strikeout. He trailed 2-0 before the Twins found their power stroke, but even those runs weren't his fault. Throwing errors by catcher Joe Mauer and the shortstop Florimon led to runs in the first and the third.
That was all the Tigers managed, though.
``That's baseball. Sometimes they're going to get the better of you,' said Alex Avila, who is 1 for 10. ``We had opportunities and missed them. We've had good at_bats, but haven't been able to push those runs across and open up the game. We'll get there eventually.'
Porcello has been a durable if unspectacular part of Detroit's rotation the last four seasons, striking out a career-high 107 batters in 2012, but April has never been his best month. The right-hander didn't pitch badly, yielding six hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings while striking out two. But he gave up the lead in the third when Mauer's two-out single was followed by Willingham's tying two-run shot into the seats in left-center.
In the fourth, Plouffe hit one even higher and further that clanked off the facade of the second deck above the same spot in the ballpark. Willingham and Plouffe were the top two power hitters for the Twins last year, with 35 and 24 home runs respectively.
NOTES: Martinez had two singles, his first multi-hit game since Sept. 28, 2011. ... The Tigers have their home opener Friday afternoon against the New York Yankees, with RHP Doug Fister scheduled to pitch against RHP Ivan Nova. Fister is 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 18 starts at Comerica Park since he was acquired in August 2011.
The Associated Press News Service
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