Pavano rolls behind two Twins homers

Pavano rolls behind two Twins homers

ANAHEIM -- One of the top priorities for the Twins this past offseason was to ensure they'd have a veteran pitcher in their starting staff.

Having seen what Carl Pavano brought to their rotation over the final few months of the 2009 season, the Twins were hoping to have that type of experience again this season. So when Pavano accepted the club's offer of arbitration and re-signed for a one-year, $7 million contract, there was excitement about what the pitcher might be able to do after his impressive bounce-back campaign last season.

If his first start of the season on Wednesday night is any indication, there is plenty to look forward to with Pavano.

Looking every bit the veteran starter who makes big pitches in key situations, Pavano eased through his seven innings and allowed just one run as Justin Morneau and J.J. Hardy each homered for the second straight night to lead the Twins to a 4-2 victory over the Angels at Angel Stadium.

"He really threw the ball fantastic for us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He got us deep into the game, used all of his pitches. I think he had just about everything working. He made it tough against a very good lineup over there and some very good hitters."

Early on it looked like a pitching duel might unfold between Pavano and Angels starter Ervin Santana. While Pavano worked his way out of jams early, including a bases-loaded mess he created in the second after he hit Howard Kendrick with a pitch, Santana didn't allow much on the other side.

Santana retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. The lone baserunner was Justin Morneau, who reached on a strikeout after Santana threw a wild pitch that bounced in the dirt and got away from catcher Mike Napoli.

But in the fourth inning, the Twins finally were able to get some offense against Santana. Joe Mauer drew a one-out walk and then Morneau tallied the first hit for the Twins. It was a big one as the first baseman powered a 1-1 hanging slider over the right-field wall to break up the scoreless game.

It was the start of Santana's troubles against the club. In the fifth, Hardy became the second Twins player to belt his second homer in as many days. The shortstop led off the inning by ripping a 3-2 hanging breaking ball to left field. Nick Punto followed with a triple into the right-center-field gap and scored on Denard Span's sacrifice fly to center to give the Twins a 4-0 lead.

For Hardy, the homer was a continuation of his strong debut with the Twins. He's batting .333 with two homers and two RBIs in three games.

"I'm excited," said Hardy, who is coming off an '09 season in Milwaukee in which he batted .229 with 47 RBIs. "I felt like after last year the way I got started it was kind of key for me to get off to a pretty good start."

But while Hardy's offense has been strong early, Gardenhire has been even more impressed by the shortstop's defense -- including a play he made in the hole during the ninth inning. With the Twins holding onto a three-run lead and new closer Jon Rauch on the mound, Hardy made a snag deep in the hole on a ball hit by Juan Rivera and used his strong arm to make a one-hop throw to Morneau at first base for the out.

"The fun part for me, right now, is watching our defense go out and play," said Gardenhire. "That play by Hardy in the last inning, that's just super baseball. "

Pavano had the help of that four-run lead after the fifth, but he looked to be in control throughout his outing. He scattered six hits and struck out six while not issuing a walk. He didn't give up a run until the sixth inning, which came on a hard-hit liner by Rivera.

"He was in and out, hard and soft," the Angels' Torii Hunter said. "He's got that veteran presence. He rarely throws balls down the middle.

"He doesn't throw 95, 96. He throws 89, 90 and hits his spots. I've seen a lot of guys have success that way. Greg Maddux comes to mind."

Throughout Spring Training, Pavano spoke about working to stay stronger later in his outings, particularly around the 80-90 pitch mark. He appeared to do that, retiring the final four batters he faced in the outing while throwing 102 pitches overall through his seven innings.

"I felt good out there at 100 pitches and that's encouraging for me this early," Pavano said. "I'm usually a guy that gets stronger as the year goes on and gets more consistent with my mechanics and my delivery. All of that is coming together right now. That's great but there is still a lot of work to be done. It's one game and we're going to be measured on six months as a team."

Pavano's ability to go deep allowed the Twins to once again turn to their setup man, Matt Guerrier, in the eighth. In his second straight save appearance, things didn't go as smoothly for Rauch, who gave up one run after allowing two hits, including a Napoli RBI single, right after Hardy's spectacular stop. But with the tying run at the plate, he induced a fielder's choice to cap things off and give the Twins their second straight win. It's a victory that gives the Twins the opportunity on Thursday to capture their first series in Anaheim since 2002.

"Catching the ball and making those plays and pitching like that, you'll have a chance," Gardenhire said. "If we continue to do that, that's a lot of fun. Right now it's fun to watch."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.