Tampa Bay's rotation has been better than league average, but its bullpen entered Friday's contest with the highest ERA among all relievers in baseball at 8.63. It surrendered two more runs in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Twins. As for Minnesota, it's been unable to get innings out of its pitching staff, as only two of six pitchers who have started this season are averaging more than five innings per outing -- which has led to a heavy workload for the bullpen.
Luckily for both teams, a couple of arms who have been known to soak up innings will get the nod on Saturday.
Carl Pavano will take the hill for the Twins, looking to build off his best outing of the season. The veteran earned his first career victory against the Yankees -- and first win of the season -- by tossing seven innings of three-run ball, while striking out a season-high six batters. Pavano has thrown at least six innings in all three of his starts, after logging over 220 in each of the past two seasons.
"We've used our bullpen an awful lot," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We had two starts that were under three innings and another one of five in a four-game series. And that puts a lot of innings out there on your bullpen, and we can't afford to keep doing that. We're playing very good baseball teams that put a lot of pressure on your pitching staff anyway with their offense, and this is another one that can do those things. They do a lot of different stuff. We need a [good] start, absolutely."
The right-hander has a 3.47 lifetime ERA against the Rays, which is his third lowest among teams he's started more than 10 games against. He threw eight shutout innings in his only start vs. Tampa Bay in 2011, but walked away with a no-decision.
The Rays will counter with right-hander James Shields, who has logged eight innings in back-to-back starts and came away victorious in both outings. Shields, however, carries a career 2.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio against the Twins into Saturday's start -- his lowest mark against any team in the American League.
Shields has developed a reputation as a workhorse: He finished second in the Majors to Justin Verlander with 249 1/3 innings pitched last season -- and has proved why so far in 2012.
"Past two times, I've been exactly where I wanted to be," Shields said. "Getting ahead of hitters, throwing strikes. I think that's the main thing when any pitcher is successful, is get ahead of hitters and throw first-pitch strikes."
Twins: Morneau aching
Justin Morneau, who sat out the series opener, is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday, according to Gardenhire. The former MVP took a foul ball off his right foot on Thursday, but the ailment isn't considered to be serious.
"Everything's fine, he's a little frustrated," Gardenhire said. "I expect him to be back out there [on Saturday]. It was hard enough [on Friday] for him not to play."
Morneau is off to a hot start this year, hitting four homers with a .931 OPS over 12 games.
Josh Willingham and Morneau have combined for nine home runs this season, while the rest of the team has hit just three. Willingham has been a much-needed source of power for a Twins team that finished last in the AL in home runs in 2011. He's proven to be a strong offseason acquisition, as he leads the team in homers, average (tied), on-base and slugging percentage, runs scored and RBIs. The reigning AL Player of the Week set a franchise mark for the longest hitting streak -- 14 games -- to start a season in his first year with the club on Friday.
Rays: Upton back in lineup
B.J. Upton played his first game of the season on Friday, after missing the team's first 13 games with a sore lower back that stemmed from a Spring Training collision with teammate Desmond Jennings. Upton went 0-for-3 in the contest, but Rays manager Joe Maddon was just excited to get the dynamic outfielder back in his lineup.
"B.J. definitely makes us a better team," Maddon said. "It may take a little time to get him going, based on a sporadic Spring Training and then going on the rehab assignment, but it's good to get him back. Makes everything better. Makes our defense better, adds more speed to the bases and a power bat. Definite improvement for us."
Joe Mauer has enjoyed a lot of success in Tampa Bay over the years. Mauer entered Friday's game leading all active Major Leaguers in batting average and OBP at Tropicana Field (minimum of 75 plate appearances), hitting .433 (29-for-67) in 17 career games.
The backstop continued his offensive prowess at The Trop on Friday, finishing the game 2-for-3 with two walks and a pair of RBIs. Mauer has a strong matchup on Saturday, too, as he's a .381 career hitter against Shields over 21 at-bats.
Matt Joyce has been swinging a hot bat as of late, collecting a hit in seven of his last eight contests -- including three multi-hit games over that stretch to increase his average to .306. His recent production, which includes three homers and five extra-base hits since April 17, has propelled him into the team lead in slugging percentage (.633).