Twins blast off three times in win
Minnesota opens four-game set at Safeco in powerful fashion
SEATTLE -- Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was taken aback a little bit on the first ball hit by the Mariners on Monday night.Not that the play was unusual, a ground ball to the second baseman, it's just that he saw something he didn't expect -- Michael Cuddyer playing second base. "I didn't know he was there," Liriano said. "The first ground ball to the [middle], I was looking and thought, 'What's Michael doing there?' I didn't know who was playing second. I was surprised to see him there." Filling in for an injured Orlando Hudson, who will join the team in Seattle on Tuesday, Cuddyer certainly didn't seem to be flustered by starting at second base for the first time in nearly five years -- particularly when it came to his offense. Cuddyer singled in a run during his first at-bat of the game and then belted a home run in his second at-bat while helping the Twins to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners in the series opener at Safeco Field on Monday night. "[Cuddyer] did fine," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was the first time he'd been out there in a while, but you do the best you can. We were looking for runs." Gardenhire certainly had offense on his mind when he drew up the lineup for Monday's game. With Cuddyer at second base, the Twins were able to use Jim Thome, Delmon Young and Jason Kubel in the lineup together for only the third time this season. Thome was the club's designated hitter, while Young and Kubel were in the outfield. It certainly appeared to pay off as Cuddyer, Young and Kubel all delivered big home runs in the victory that extended Minnesota's winning streak to five games -- tying a season high. And there appears to be something about this West Coast air that seems to get the long ball going for the Twins. The Twins hit nine home runs during their season-opening four-game series in Anaheim, and upon their second trip to the West Coast -- this time to Seattle -- they found that home run power again. Young got hit the home run barrage started for Minnesota with his two-run homer to left field in the second inning. It was part of a three-run inning for the Twins, as Justin Morneau doubled to lead off the inning and scored on Cuddyer's RBI single up the middle. Cuddyer and Kubel then belted home runs on back-to-back pitches in the fourth inning. It marked the first time that the Twins have homered on consecutive pitches since Sept. 23, 2008. "Offensively, we matched them with 10 hits," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "The difference is the home runs." Liriano held the Mariners to just three runs on eight hits over six innings, but didn't allow a any home runs. It was far from a perfect outing for the left-hander, who threw a total of 99 pitches. But Liriano, who improved to 5-3 on the season, managed to strike out seven and limit the damage against this Mariners offense. And it was enough of a performance on a night when the Twins managed to deliver big hits while facing right-hander Doug Fister, who entered the contest with an American League-leading 2.03 ERA. Fister had not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his nine previous starts. In fact, Fister had only given up two home runs in 62 innings entering Monday's contest. But the right-hander gave up five runs on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings vs. Minnesota. "He's got great stuff," Gardenhire said of Fister. "A great changeup, a heck of a curveball, a nice little slider and he locates his fastball really well. He's tough. Fortunately for us, we got him in the one inning. He made some mistakes and we got ahold of them pretty good." As for defense, Cuddyer certainly saw his share of work at second base on the night. Besides the initial ground ball up the middle hit by leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki in the first that Cuddyer fielded smoothly, there were some welcome-back-to-the-position moments as well. Cuddyer bounced a throw to first base on a potential double-play ball in the fourth inning and a bad hop on an Ichiro infield single nearly hit Cuddyer in the right shoulder. But Cuddyer said that, overall, returning to a position he had started 46 career games at, all much earlier in his tenure as a Twin, wasn't too bad. "I felt really comfortable," Cuddyer said. "[Shortstop] J.J. Hardy did a great job of kind of coaching me through situations that I didn't think about or forgot about. J.J. did a great job with me." Cuddyer's stint at second base appears to be short-lived, with Hudson possibly returning to the lineup in a couple days when his left wrist heals and the Twins bringing up infielder Matt Tolbert after placing Alexi Casilla on the disabled list with bone spurs in his right elbow. But one thing is certain. Whenever the club needs someone to be its Mr. Versatile and step into a role -- even if it's one he hasn't been in for a long time -- Cuddyer is there to help out. "Cuddy's not a second baseman, but he can go out there and do that," Gardenhire said. "We know we're all banged up and pretty thin. He was excited to get out there. He made a couple of nice plays. He kind of choked off the one double-play ball, which is not an easy double-play ball. That's not always easy when a guy is running at your legs. But he's a gamer. He wants to win and that's the players you like."
Kelly Theiser is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.