The Twins were scuffling a little headed into Friday night’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, losers of six of their past nine games. But their lineup had been tough on some very good pitchers, and that continued in a 9-4 victory over the Rays in front of 23,761 at Target Field.
Byron Buxton homered twice for the second consecutive night, and Devin Smeltzer threw his third quality start in his past four games — three runs on four hits with a trio of strikeouts in six innings.
The Twins chased Tampa Bay’s ace, Drew Rasmussen, after just 4⅓ innings, tagging him for seven runs, four earned, on nine hits and a pair of walks.
It was the Twins’ fourth successful attack on a top-line pitcher in as many nights, although only the second win. While the Twins lost 2 of 3 to the New York Yankees, none of their top-shelf starters — Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortez and Gerrit Cole — lasted more than 4⅓ innings and all gave up four earned runs.
Adding Rasmussen, 5-2 with a 3.04 earned-run average when the game started, the Twins have scored 22 runs, 19 earned, in 15 innings against pitchers that were a combined 21-5 with a 2.37 ERA before they faced the Twins this week. That’s an 11.40 ERA in four combined starts.
Smeltzer (2-0) had faced just two batters over the minimum until the first three Rays reached base in the seventh on home runs by Randy Arozarena — an inside-the-parker off the wall in right-center — and Vidal Brujan, and a walk to Isaac Paredes.
Right-hander Griffin Jax relieved and struck out Francisco Mejia, Taylor Walls and Brett Phillips to protect a 7-3 lead.
The Twins broke open a 1-1 game with a six-run fifth inning. Buxton started the barrage with a one-out solo home run, his second of the night. Jorge Polanco and Gary Sanchez added RBI doubles, and Nick Gordon — the Twins’ 11th batter of the inning — drove in the last run with a single for a 7-1 lead.
Carlos Correa added a two-run home run off reliever Calvin Faucher in the eighth inning.
Buxton appears to have busted out from a long slump. In his past three games, he is 6 for 13 (.462) at the plate with five home runs, seven RBIs, seven runs scored and one strikeout. Before that, he had been hitting .157 (13 for 83) with six RBIs, nine walks and 23 strikeouts in 22 games since May 7.
On Friday, he became just the fourth Twin in the team’s history to hit multiple home runs in consecutive games, joining Jose Rosario, Kirby Puckett and Don Mincher. Buxton homered in consecutive at-bats in Thursday’s 10-7 loss to the Yankees.