By Brian McTaggart and Rhett Bollinger
MINNEAPOLIS -- As much as the Astros have been struggling swinging the bats the last two weeks, they certainly can't afford to give away runs on defense.
Tyler Duffey held the Astros' bats in check by allowing one run in six innings and the Twins took advantage of a pair of defensive miscues by center fielder Carlos Gomez in the fifth with some timely hits to pick up a 3-1 victory over Houston on Monday night at Target Field.
"We didn't play well enough to win," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "That's been troublesome for a couple weeks now. You've got play better to win. For Collin McHugh, I thought the line's going to not represent how he pitched. There were a few balls hit hard and a few balls that could've been played behind him. They got a lot of hits. … All in all just a bad game."
Duffey and McHugh were locked in a pitchers' duel before things came undone for the Astros in the fifth. Danny Santana capped a three-run outburst with an RBI single to score Juan Centeno, who was awarded an RBI triple on a ball Gomez lost in the sky -- his second misplay of the inning.
"It was just one big inning," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "The hit-and-run, [Jorge] Polanco did a nice job putting in play and it skipped to the wall. Gomez lost one in the twilight, which didn't hurt our cause and we cashed one in. We made it stand up. Obviously, between Duffey and our bullpen, it was a good night for the pitching staff."
The Astros' struggling offense managed only an RBI double by George Springer in the sixth. Houston has scored just 32 run in its past 14 games, 11 of which have been losses. The Astros are hitting .201 in that stretch and have one homer in their past 10 games.
"He hasn't had a great year and I know the rest of the league has hit pretty well against him," Hinch said of Duffey. "He had a pretty high ERA coming in. He pitched tough against us last year. We didn't adjust to his breaking ball very well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Duffey solid against hometown team: Duffey, a Houston native, turned in his first quality start since July 7, as he had posted an 11.25 ERA over his previous four starts. But Duffey, who has been working to improve his arm angle to get a higher release point, looked much better against the Astros, utilizing his curveball to help him strike out eight.
"It all started with my fastball command," Duffey said. "I got the sinker over the plate when I needed to. That allowed me to get the breaking ball in. They're an aggressive team, so it kind of plays into my game." More >
Gomez's gaffes: Gomez made a couple of costly misplays in the fifth, helping the Twins score three times. He let a hit off the bat of Jorge Polanco skip past him in the outfield for a two-base error, and then he lost a ball hit by Centeno that would up being a triple. On May 15 in Boston, Gomez misplayed a pair of fly balls, including one he lost in the sun, and was put on the disabled list the next day.
"I don't feel really good in this situation," Gomez said. "When we come every day and [work] hard and we play the game like that, like Little League, it's tough." More >
Polanco stays hot: Polanco has been impressive since getting called up on July 29, getting at least one hit in each of his last nine games, batting .378 (14-for-37) over that span. He went 2-for-4 against the Astros, also making two impressive plays at shortstop in the third inning. Polanco, who didn't see any action at shortstop at Triple-A Rochester this year, started at short for the second straight day and could get an extended look there going forward with the way he's been hitting.
"It was maybe one of the better games I've ever seen him play short," Molitor said. "He was clean. He finished. He threw with confidence. It was a great night for him all around."
McHugh goes seven: After giving up eight runs in 1 2/3 innings on July 29 at Detroit, McHugh has started August with a pair of quality starts, both of which have been losses. He worked seven innings Monday and allowed 10 hits and three runs, two of which likely wouldn't have scored without the misplays in center field.
"He pitched better than the line indicated and that doesn't give him much to show for it," Hinch said. "He deserved a better fate. But at the same time, obviously it's a team game. We've got to adjust behind him. He's got to make adjustments as well. I thought his pitch quality was really good early. I'm glad he finished his outing. That was a good way to finish a very unfortunate outing. I appreciate how he battled through there with some of the miscues behind him."
"I would think that these guys are aware of those things. We're going to keep playing. We're enjoying what we're doing right now. There is a lot of energy. Guys are having fun." -- Molitor, on the Twins no longer having the worst record in the American League, going 21-13 since July 1 to pass the Rays
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers (7-5, 4.34 ERA) will start Tuesday (7:10 p.m. CT) in the second of four games against the Twins at Target Field. He is 1-1 with a 2.33 ERA in his last three outings, all quality starts.
Twins: Left-hander Hector Santiago (10-5, 4.37) is set to make his second start with Minnesota since being acquired from the Angels on Aug. 1. Santiago is familiar with the Astros from his time in the AL West, and is 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA against Houston in 10 appearances (eight starts).