Streaking Rays hit road to clash with Twins

( - The Tampa Bay Rays look to stay hot on Friday night when they hit the road to open a three-game set at Target Field against the Minnesota Twins.

Tampa Bay is coming off three straight wins over the New York Yankees to wrap up its homestand in successful fashion. The Rays now sit four games above .500 (20-16) and entered Friday just one game back of the American League East- leading Yankees.

On Thursday, the Rays lineup took advantage of an injury to Yankees starter Chase Whitley, who exited the game in the second innings. Rene Rivera then promptly belted a three-run home run off the first pitch from Esmil Rogers to give Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead.

"I was just looking for something in the strike zone so I could put a good swing," Rivera said. "I saw it pretty well, could stay back and put a good swing on it."

Rivera finished with four RBI, while starter Erasmo Ramirez earned the win by giving up just one hit in five shutout innings.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is in the middle of the pack in the AL Central but has dropped three of its last four games.

The Twins were routed by a 13-1 final in Thursday's rubber match at Detroit, as they were out-hit, 20-5. Minnesota's pitching served up four homers, including two off the bat of Miguel Cabrera. Starter Mike Pelfrey lasted only 4 2/3 innings and lost his first decision of the season. He was charged with five runs (four earned) on 10 hits.

"We didn't contain very well," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We couldn't make that pitch to get through an at-bat or through an inning. It just seemed like the numbers kept going up."

Still, the Twins have won 10 of 14 and are right in the thick of the division race after finishing last in the AL Central a year ago.

Taking the ball for Minnesota in Friday's opener is veteran Phil Hughes, who has struggled with a 2-4 record and a 5.11 ERA through seven starts. The right-hander was looking strong early against Cleveland on Saturday but started to come apart in the later innings. He did log his second consecutive victory, despite giving up four earned runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 frames. Hughes struck out four and walked nobody.

Rays starter Jake Odorizzi owns a 2.09 ERA on the season and is the only starter in the majors to pitch into the seventh inning seven times. He also knows better than to take the Twins lightly.

"They have been playing really good lately," Odorizzi said of the Twins. "I think they are surprising a lot of teams, similar to us, so it should be a good series."

The right-hander took a no-decision against Texas on Sunday as he went 6 2/3 innings and gave up just one run despite battling the flu, which had caused his previously scheduled start to be bumped back a day.

Odorizzi could certainly use some run support. The Rays offense has given him only 12 runs of support over his seven starts, with five of those runs coming in one game.

Tampa Bay won four of six meetings against the Twins last season.