MINNEAPOLIS — In his previous two starts, Jason Hammel gave the Rays a chance to win.
The 25-year-old right-hander had made some key adjustments since making his first opening-day roster this spring. One remaining hurdle was to cut out some shaky beginnings to his outings by getting into the flow of the game quicker.
Hammel was strong from the get-go Thursday, and the Rays scored four runs in the fifth inning to beat the Twins 7-3 at the Metrodome, snapping a three-game losing streak.
"Tip your hats to the hitters," Hammel said. "Because seven runs, that makes it real comfortable."
The Rays (7-9), who had lost three straight by two runs or fewer, did suffer another personnel loss for at least the evening when first baseman Carlos Pena left in the fourth with right hamstring tightness (he's listed as day to day). But unlike previous defeats this week, the Rays didn't beat themselves with mistakes, and, in doing so, gave manager Joe Maddon a few things to be happy about.
For the second straight game, Maddon used the combination of Jonny Gomes (DH) and Eric Hinske (rightfield) against a right-handed pitcher as opposed to his usual left-left, right-right platoon. The move worked again as Hinske ripped his second homer in as many days (fourth of the season), a solo shot in the second that put the Rays up 2-0.
There was slumping shortstop Jason Bartlett (.218), who picked up two hits, and Evan Longoria, who added two hits and an RBI. There was B.J. Upton, who hit safely for the seventh time in eight games.
There was the defense, which was better but not flawless. For the second straight game, Bartlett couldn't make a tough defensive play with two outs, extending a Twins rally in the third. With a runner on second, Bartlett charged a chopper by leadoff man Carlos Gomez. But the ball bounced off his glove (scored a base hit). The next batter, Matt Tolbert, singled to bring the Twins within 2-1.
The teams traded RBI singles in the fourth (Longoria for the Rays, former Ray Delmon Young for the Twins). In the fifth, the Rays pulled ahead for good. Bartlett, a former Twin, led off with a single, moved to second on an Akinori Iwamura hit and scored when Carl Crawford hit a single to left.
After B.J. Upton walked to load the bases, Twins starter Boof Bonser (a Gibbs product) was pulled for Brian Bass. Nathan Haynes, hitting in the cleanup spot for the injured Pena, was up next.
Haynes came through with a two-run single to right and advanced to second on an error by Denard Span; the two RBI was a career-high, as Haynes had one RBI in his first 50 career games. Gomes added an RBI groundout in the inning to make it 7-2.
Hammel finished after six innings, giving up three runs while scattering six hits. J.P. Howell did the rest, giving up two hits in three scoreless frames to seal the victory and pick up his first big-league save.