Duensing outduels Rangers in opener

Duensing outduels Rangers in opener

MINNESOTA -- For seven innings on Friday, rookie starter Brian Duensing made things look easy.

In the ninth, All-Star closer Joe Nathan made things interesting.

But in the end, Duensing earned his second career win, Nathan picked up his 33rd save and the Minnesota Twins moved into second place in the American League Central with a 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers.

With Detroit's win over Tampa Bay and Chicago's 10-inning loss to the Yankees on Friday, the Twins sit in second place in the AL Central, 4 1/2 games back of the Tigers and a half-game ahead of the third-place White Sox.

The left-handed Duensing, making his third career start, allowed just one run on three hits while striking out a career-high eight batters. Used mostly out of the bullpen in his first season with the Twins, Duensing had been thrust into the starting role following injuries to several of Minnesota's starters.

He couldn't have picked a better time to put together the best performance of his young career.

"A very nice start by Duensing. He was fantastic," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He used all his pitches, changed speeds. Really fun to watch against a very good hitting baseball team."

With Duensing on track for the victory, Nathan had to battle in the ninth, facing six hitters before finally picking up the save. Nathan retired the first two Rangers batters before giving up back-to-back doubles to Ivan Rodriguez and David Murphy, which pulled Texas to within a run.

Murphy's double hit high off the baggie in right field and missed tying the game by a matter of a few feet.

"Left it up a bit, and he hit it pretty well," Nathan said. "I didn't know off the bat whether it was going to tie the game or not. Fortunately, it caught the baggie and stayed in the park."

"I thought right off the bat I got it," Murphy said. "I didn't get it on the barrel. He got it in on me. But right down the line, something of a short home-run porch ... I thought I got it."

The Twins' closer then walked pinch-hitter Hank Blalock to put two runners on with two outs. But Nathan was able to strike out Chris Davis on a called third strike to seal Duensing's win.

"Obviously, I'd rather get through that inning with minimal pitches, but it's a situation where I got two quick outs," Nathan said. "Obviously, their lineup can do damage at any time."

For Duensing (2-1), his seven innings were a career high. He had made 13 starts with Triple-A Rochester this season, but he had been relegated to a relief role for most of his time with the Twins.

"You never know day-to-day what's going to happen. He's throwing the ball well for us," Gardenhire said. "He was in the rotation down there, had a real nice pitch count going. Once you back off and start pitching out of the bullpen, you worry about how much stamina they're going to have. But he was fine. He was throwing the ball good."

"The velocity on the radar gun looks slower than the ball coming out of his hand," Murphy said. "His ball gets on you pretty quick. He located his fastball and threw strikes with everything."

Duensing admitted after Friday's start that he still experienced some nerves on the mound. They certainly didn't show, however, as the lefty kept the powerful Texas bats in check.

"I must be good at hiding it," Duensing said. "Since I've been recalled, the game has really slowed down, and I've kind of felt more comfortable on the mound."

Being spotted three runs early in the ballgame certainly helped calm Duensing.

Twins center fielder Denard Span led off with a double to right and advanced to third on a groundout by Orlando Cabrera. Catcher Joe Mauer then singled in Span.

Two batters later, designated hitter Jason Kubel recorded his second triple of the season with a shot off the baggie in right, scoring Mauer from first. Kubel crossed the plate in the next at-bat, as Michael Cuddyer's line drive up the middle ricocheted off Texas starter Tommy Hunter (6-3) and rolled into foul territory.

"That makes it a lot easier when they score runs right off the bat," Duensing said. "Any time your offense picks up runs, it's going to be easier on you."

The Rangers scored their only run off Duensing in the sixth, when Elvis Andrus came home on a fielder's choice. But Duensing struck out the final batter in both the sixth and seventh innings before giving way to reliever Matt Guerrier in the eighth.

"I'm really excited about the way I threw tonight. I felt pretty good," Duensing said. "They're a really good hitting team. We had to try and keep them off balance and let the defense do some work, too."

"Much needed. A big fill-in right now," Gardenhire said. "This guy's picking us up, and that's what's needed here."

Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.