Morneau, Hardy homer again for Twins

Published 9:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

Carl Pavano and J.J. Hardy both are looking for bounce-back seasons. It would be hard for either one to be doing better so far.

Pavano pitched seven sharp innings in his season debut, and Hardy and Justin Morneau each homered for the second straight game in the Twins’ 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night.

In his first start a year ago with Cleveland, Pavano faced just 12 batters and gave up nine runs against Texas.

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“It’s always important to get off on the right foot. It’s one good day out of hopefully many for me and the team,” Pavano said. “Last year was a nightmare. My first start last year couldn’t have gone worse. But that’s behind me and this is a new year, so I’m excited.”

Pavano (1-0) allowed a run and six hits, struck out six and walked none after being staked to a 4-0 lead. The 13-year veteran right-hander, obtained in a trade last August, finished 2009 with a 5.10 ERA in 33 starts and tied Milwaukee’s Braden Looper for the most earned runs allowed in the majors.

“He’s a veteran pitcher and he knows what he’s doing,” said Torii Hunter, who had a single in three at-bats against Pavano. “Whatever happened with him in the past, that’s the past. What he’s doing now is what’s important. He’s still a smart pitcher.”

Pavano escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second, retiring Mike Napoli on a flyball and striking out Brandon Wood. He wriggled out of trouble again in the fourth, slipping a called third strike past Kendry Morales with runners at the corners.

“They let me off the hook with the bases loaded,” Pavano said. “A hit there, and guys are running all over the place and it’s a different ballgame. But I was able to make some pitches and was able to get into a little bit of a rhythm.”

Hardy, an All-Star in 2007, batted only .229 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs, after averaging 25 homers and 77 RBIs over the previous two seasons.

“Once the season was over, I just spent the entire offseason forgetting about last year,” Hardy said. “After last year and the way I got started, it’s key for me to get off to a pretty good start this time. My swing’s getting to where I want it to be. It’s pretty close, but it’s definitely better now than at any point last year.”

Jon Rauch, assigned the closer’s role last Friday by manager Ron Gardenhire after four-time All-Star Joe Nathan had season-ending Tommy John surgery in March, allowed a two-out RBI single in the ninth by Mike Napoli before picking up his second save in two games.

“He has the mentality of a closer and he wants the ball every night, but we’ll have to be smart about that,” Gardenhire said. “We’ll run him out there maybe one more time tomorrow if we get that opportunity.”