FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — On a tough day for the Minnesota Twins, third base prospect Danny Valencia provided something positive.
Valencia hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning, and the Twins beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-6 on Tuesday after learning All-Star closer Joe Nathan has a torn ligament in his throwing elbow.
"It feels great to come through in that situation," said Valencia, who hit a long shot over the left-field fence. "I want to show them that I can play here and that I can hold my own. Hopefully everything works out."
Brendan Harris and Nick Punto are competing for the starting job at third base, but Valencia is emerging behind them. He finished last season at Triple-A, batting .286 with seven homers and 41 RBIs in 269 at-bats for Rochester.
"At the end of last year, when we talked about calling him up in September, no one in the organization thought he was ready to come to the big leagues," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So he's got a lot to prove in spring. If he wants to hit home runs while he's here, that's fine. But in the big leagues, he's got to learn to control his emotions. Those are all of the things I have heard. But he's doing just fine. He's a good-looking player. He's a good-looking prospect. We'll see how he does from here."
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright struggled, allowing five hits, four runs and two walks in two innings without a strikeout.
"It's a quick fix, really," Wainwright said. "It's probably a good thing that I got lit up like I did today anyway. Today I really wasn't really locked in, trying to make a pitch. I was just out there throwing."
Wainwright said he strayed from his strategy after a few batters reached base.
"Then I started thinking, 'Should I continue to try and throw the pitches that I wanted to work on today? Or do I try to get my team out of the inning?'" Wainwright said. "Ultimately I didn't do either one."
He had some help from Matt Holliday's RBI double in the first. Colby Rasmus also hit a two-run homer off Jeff Manship in the fifth.
Justin Morneau hit a two-run double for the Twins, and Joe Mauer added an RBI single. Starter Carl Pavano gave up three runs on six hits in three innings. He struck out three without a walk.
But the story of the day for the Twins was the possible loss of Nathan, who might need season-ending surgery.
"Maybe he will feel better in a couple of weeks," said right-hander Jesse Crain, one of his close friends in the bullpen. "We're not going to know until then. We'll have to figure out the next step when we get there."
Crain pitched a scoreless fourth inning in relief of Pavano. Kyle Waldrop, a former first-round draft pick making the conversion from starter to reliever, got the save in this game with a scoreless ninth.
"I think if you ask anybody in the bullpen, they're going to say, 'Yeah, I can do that job,'" Crain said. "You're never going to know until you actually get into that situation. But for me, I've done that throughout the minor leagues. We all feel like we can do that job. Hopefully it's not something we're going to have to worry about."