Inside Pitch: Hunter To Return Monday

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Torii Hunter expects to be back by Monday, Joe Nathan has been as valuable as ever for the Twins this season, Mike Redmond inks a new two-year deal, and much more.

He wasn't an All-Star for the first time in three seasons with the Twins, but Joe Nathan is proving every bit as valuable to the Twins' success as any All-Star for any team in the league this year.

The Twins' slow start this year meant the Twins' closer had only six save chances in April and May combined (converting all six), and only 16 before the All-Star break (15 converted).

He had 25 saves by the break last year and 23 the year before in his two All-Star seasons.

"I wish we could've helped him out earlier in the year and given him the numbers he deserves," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Nathan kind of gets overlooked in the whole realm of things, but he doesn't ever get overlooked by us. He's been lights out to say the least."

In fact, since the All-Star game, Nathan (6-0, 1.43 ERA) is 6-for-6 in save chances with 12 strikeouts and three walks in eight scoreless appearances of one inning each -- including big ninth innings in Chicago on back-to-back nights this week to save to games in that key three-game sweep of the White Sox by the Twins.

REPLAY: Detroit's Craig Monroe singled home the winning run with two out in the top of the 10th inning off Twins setup man Juan Rincon as the Tigers beat the Twins 3-2 Friday night to win the first game of a big three-game set at the Metrodome. It snapped the Twins' four-game winning streak.

Francisco Liriano, the Twins' rookie phenom who started the game, didn't get the decision, but he pitched another dominant eight innings, with the only runs against him scoring on a two-run double in the first inning by Magglio Ordonez. Liriano struck out 12, walked two, gave up just three hits and at one point retired 10 in a row.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • CF Torii Hunter (foot) ran sprints in the outfield Friday when the Twins returned to the Metrodome to open a six-game homestand, and he gave assurances again that he'll be ready to rejoin the lineup on Monday, the first day he's eligible to come back from the 15-day DL. New X-rays showed the stress fracture in his foot is healing well, but that it is not yet fully healed. Nevertheless, Hunter has been given the OK to return if he feels good enough.

  • C Mike Redmond, a key and unsung member of the roster as a backup catcher and veteran clubhouse leader, signed a two-year contract extension worth $2 million.

    Redmond, who's in the second year of a two-year, $1.8 million deal, gets $950,000 each of the next two seasons and has a club option for 2009 that includes a $100,000 buyout clause.

  • 3B Nick Punto's one-out double in the sixth inning Friday extended his career-high hitting streak to 19 games, the Twins' longest of the season and the longest current streak in the American League.

  • RHP Juan Rincon, the Twins' setup ace, had allowed only two runs in 11 July appearances (11 IP) until giving up Detroit's game winner in the 10th inning on Friday.

  • The Twins dropped to 2-8 against Detroit this season, including 2-2 at home -- the only team in the division against which they have a losing record this year (The Twins are exactly .500 against each of the three other A.L. Central opponents).

    BY THE NUMBERS: 50-0 -- Twins' record this season when leading after eight innings, thanks largely to RHP Joe Nathan, the two-time All-Star closer who has converted 21 of 22 save chances this year.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's totally different now." -- C Mike Redmond, comparing the Twins this week as they prepared to face the Tigers for the first time since May, and the Twins who lost seven of nine games to the Tigers over the first week of the season.


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