The Twins and Mariners, two teams that have fought their way back to the .500 range after some early-season struggles, face off in the middle game of a three-game set Saturday at Target Field.
Minnesota won its last two series against the Tigers and Red Sox and evened its record at 20-20 with Friday's 5-4 victory over Seattle. The Mariners are 13-8 since snapping an eight-game skid on April 23 to put their record at 20-21.
"We've lost a lot of baseball games the last three years so we're trying to earn respect," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "But I've said all along this team doesn't quit and is always in the ballgame and hopefully we continue that."
Mariners first-year skipper Lloyd McClendon believes his team's offensive struggles will improve as the weather warms and some players settle in, while taking comfort that a strong pitching staff has now regained injured All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma and is close to getting youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker back as well.
"Do we have shortcomings offensively? Of course we do," McClendon said. "Do we have challenges? Yes we do. Can we win? Yes we can."
Saturday's game will pit Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno against Mariners rookie southpaw Roenis Elias.
Deduno makes his third start of the year after opening the season in long relief. He had a quality start the last time out, going six innings and giving up three runs on six hits and a walk to get a no-decision against the Tigers on Sunday.
The 30-year-old Dominican is coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery that ended his season in late August, so he was proud to get his pitch count to 97 and go six innings for the first time since Aug. 23, 2013.
"I'm pretty happy I was able to get the sixth inning," Deduno said. "That was pretty good. … I got a little bit tired but I think if I keep working hard, I'll be fine."
The 6-foot-3 right-hander has had considerable success against the Mariners in the three times he's faced them, going 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA with just 10 hits and two runs in 20 innings.
Deduno shut Seattle out for seven innings on three hits with three walks and six strikeouts in a 4-0 victory on July 27 at Safeco Field last year. He split two decisions against the Mariners in 2012, including a 10-0 win the only time he's faced them at Target Field when he allowed just two hits with no walks and nine strikeouts over seven innings.
The Mariners will counter with Elias, who takes the mound for the ninth time since he jumped from Double-A ball to a rotation berth in Spring Training.
The 25-year-old Cuban is 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA and ranks fourth among American League rookies in strikeouts with 42 in 46 1/3 innings.
But Elias is coming off a five-inning no-decision against the Royals when he allowed five runs (three earned) on nine hits, including a second-inning grand slam. The Mariners regained a 7-5 lead before Elias was replaced, but wound up losing, 9-7.
McClendon took Elias out after 87 pitches, his fewest since an 80-pitching outing in his season debut.
"We've got to remember this is a young pitcher we have to take care of," McClendon said. "All in all, he came out of the game with a lead. We would have liked him to go more but it just wasn't feasible."
Elias has been one of Seattle's most-consistent starters despite his youth, but didn't have his best command against the Royals and the nine hits allowed was a season high.
"I felt good out there, but it's baseball and not every game is going to be good for you," Elias said through translator Fernando Alcala.
Mariners: Wilhelmsen in a groove
Since posting a 4.82 ERA in his first nine appearances of the season, Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen has allowed just six hits with four walks and 14 strikeouts over 11 2/3 scoreless innings over his last 10 outings.
With the longest scoreless streak by any Mariners reliever this season, Wilhelmsen has lowered his ERA to 2.14 and raised the confidence level of his skipper.
"He's throwing better. He's throwing more strikes," said McClendon. "I just think it's the fact he's in the zone more and not working behind in the count as often. He's got a lot of weapons. He throws 97. But when you're behind in the count and forced to use the fastball, hitters don't care how hard you throw. If they know it's coming, they're going to hit it. So the fact he's throwing more strikes early has helped him be a lot more effective."
Twins: Fuld yet to resume baseball activities
Twins outfielder Sam Fuld was eligible to be activated from the seven-day concussion list Friday, but still has yet to start baseball activities and there's no timetable for his return. Fuld, who was placed on the DL with concussion-like symptoms on May 8, admitted he suffered a setback Wednesday but his symptoms have been improving in recent days.
"I had a setback on Wednesday but I feel much better," Fuld said. "There's still some symptoms so I'm not really doing a heck of a lot yet. Just walking around and some slow walks is all I'm really doing right now."
• Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who will pitch Sunday's series finale, has faced the Twins just twice in his career at Target Field and is 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Hernandez is 6-5 with a 2.07 ERA in 15 starts against Minnesota and he wound up with a tough no-decision in his lone battle last year on July 26 at Safeco Field when he held the Twins to five hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts, but gave up a ninth-inning run to tie the game at 1. Minnesota rallied to win that game 3-2 in 13 innings.
• Twins first baseman Joe Mauer went into Friday's game with a career .350 average (79-for-226) in 61 games against Seattle, the fourth highest all-time average among players with at least 150 plate appearances against the Mariners, behind Rod Carew (.356), Cliff Johnson (.353) and Carlos Delgado (.351). Former Seattle manager Lou Piniella is fifth on that list at .349.