Preview Minnesota at Houston
(SportsNetwork.com) - Joe Mauer knows how to make a return entrance.
The face of the Minnesota franchise arrived from a prolonged injury absence with game-winning hit on Monday and will try to keep his momentum going when the Twins visit the Houston Astros for the second game of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.
Mauer had hit in 12 straight games before heading to the disabled list with an oblique injury in early July, which led to a 34-game stint away from the team. He was 2-for-4 in Monday's return, and arrived to the ballpark in time to bid farewell to former teammate Josh Willingham, who was dealt to Kansas City earlier in the day.
"I was on a high coming in and seeing everybody and then to see one of our guys go out that was pretty tough," Mauer said. "But then to win the ballgame was a good way to end it."
In his last 13 games of activity, Mauer is hitting .373 with 13 runs batted in. The Twins, who are 11 games under .500 overall, are a closer-to- respectability 37-40 when he plays.
"This guy, I've always said he can get right out of bed and hit," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The Astros have lost five of seven games, thanks in part to a continued anemic output with runners in scoring position. Houston is batting .182 in that situation over those seven games, and is just 1-for-12 in the last two games.
Hoping for some run support on the mound is Collin McHugh, who's winless in his last nine starts -- including six losses -- since beginning the season at 4-3. He allowed just two runs in his last 13 1/3 innings, but has gotten no- decisions in games against Toronto and Philadelphia.
McHugh was nicked for three runs in 4 1/3 innings of Houston's 14-5 win at Minnesota in June.
He'll face Twins starter Yohan Pino, who was beaten, 3-0, by Oakland on Thursday after allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings. He's 1-2 with a 5.85 ERA in four road starts and hasn't won since beating Seattle on July 10.
"(Oakland was) aggressive," Pino said. "I was trying to throw the first pitch for strikes and they were swinging at it. I feel I can do better."
On Monday, after Eduardo Escobar struck out to start the ninth, Jordan Schafer and Brian Dozier worked walks against Josh Fields (2-5) around a pop out. Mauer then shot a base hit through the hole on the left side to plate Schafer. Dozier scored from first after Danny Santana hesitated getting the ball into the infield to provide Minnesota its 4-2 win.
Mauer also smacked a double for the Twins, who have won two straight on the heels of a four-game losing streak.
Lefty Tommy Milone, acquired from Oakland last month for Sam Fuld, made his first start for Minnesota. He allowed two runs on eight hits and three walks over six innings.