Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/22/12
The Minnesota Twins entered Saturday with the majors' worst earned-run average from their starting pitchers. With opening day starter Carl Pavano going to the mound, Minnesota was looking for a little relief fromits starting pitching. Pavano matched Tampa Bay Rays all-star pitcher James Shields for five innings, giving the Twins the starting pitching they've needed for much of this season. Pavano (1-2) limited Tampa Bay to five hits in the first five innings, but ran into a little bit of trouble in the sixth and Minnesota lost 4-1 to the Rays. "I thought I was mixing my pitches really well," Pavano said. "What hurt me a little bit was I went through a lot of good pitches the first time through the lineup, and the second and third times they had seen it and were fighting them off, seven, eight pitch at-bats and it wore me down a little bit." Joe Mauer had two hits for the Twins, to run his batting average at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field to .446 and Josh Willingham singled in his final at-bat to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, which tied Kirby Puckett for the longest streak to start a season. Puckett hit in 15 straight games in 1994. Pavano pitched six innings, allowing three runs two earned on seven hits and two walks, but couldn't outduel Shields. Shields, third in the Cy Young voting last season, went 8-plus innings, giving up one run on five hits. The right-hander (3-0) walked two and struck out seven and Fernando Rodney finished up his fifth save. "It's all about winning," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Carl wanted to get us a win. He's not one to come out, but they made him work really hard, fouled off a lot of pitches and got deep into counts. As a team, they can do those things. Carl gave us a great chance to win. The guy on the other side didn't let us do too much." Pavano also notched seven strikeouts, his most since recording seven in a start on April 14 last season against Tampa Bay. Pavano, who usually pitches to contact, had six strikeouts his last outing against the New York Yankees. The 13 strikeouts are the most his had in back-to-back outings in his three years with the Twins. His career high is 10, set back in 2003 as a member of the Florida Marlins. "I'm assuming its more life on my fastball, there's more difference between my fastball and changeup," Pavano said. "The changeup is moving down more, my location's better and I'm getting stronger and making better pitchers. I'm executing and it gives me more weapons to use. And they're an aggressive lineup. I'm a guy who pitches to contact. I was fortunate to have better stuff tonight." Pavano was coming off a seven-inning win against New York in his last outing, which was Minnesota first win for a starter this season. The Twins entered play Saturday with a 6.51 ERA among starting pitchers, easily the worst mark in the league. Minnesota starters had allowed 54 earned runs in 74 2-3 innings. But Pavano's outing will help the look of Minnesota's numbers. The right-hander lowered his own season ERA from 5.23 to 4.72. He cruised through five innings, before giving up two hits, a walk and an intentional walk in the sixth that would be his undoing. After striking out Ben Zobrist to start the inning, Pavano walked Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria singled. Pavano got Luke Scott to fly out and intentionally walked Matt Joyce to load the bases with two outs. But B.J. Upton dumped a single to center field to score two runs and Denard Span's throw to third deflected off the baserunner allowing another run to score. Pavano got out of the inning with a groundout. "Shields is really good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Carl went toe-to-toe with him and finally cracked there a little bit. We threw the ball around a little bit and probably added on to it." It was another step for Pavano, who allowed four runs in seven innings in the season-opening loss to the Baltimore Orioles and then gave up five runs in 6 2-3 innings against the Los Angeles Angels. Francisco Liriano (0-2, 11.91 ERA) goes against Jeff Niemann (0-2, 4.50) in the series finale Sunday with the teams splitting the first two games. Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.
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