- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - After spending much of the first half of the season in the cellar, the Minnesota Twins became an afterthought in the American League.

Minnesota is giving the rest of the AL something to think about now as a playoff spoiler with some minor league call-ups getting more of a chance in the lineup.

Tyler Duffey pitched six effective innings and Minnesota took advantage of two misplays by center fielder Carlos Gomez in a three-run fifth that sent the Twins past the Houston Astros 3-1 on Monday night.

Eddie Rosario had three hits for Minnesota, which won for the seventh time in nine games.

“With 50 games, we’ve got to keep playing. Kind of enjoying what we’re doing right now, for the most part,” manager Paul Molitor said. “I think there’s a lot of energy, guys are having fun, a lot of joking going around, which is good as long as the focus is where it needs to be.”

Since July 2, Minnesota has gone 21-12 and leads the majors in runs, hits, doubles and triples. The victory Monday pulled the Twins ahead of Tampa Bay and out of last place in the overall AL standings.

Minnesota is still last in the AL Central.

Gomez, the former Twins outfielder, let Jorge Polanco’s single skip by him for a two-base error that allowed one run to score. Then he lost a fly ball off Juan Centeno’s bat, turning it into an RBI triple.

Danny Santana followed with a run-scoring single.

“The first one was hit really hard and I missed (it) in my glove, and the second one, I (didn’t) know where the ball was,” Gomez said. “We lost the game because of that. I feel worse than anyone in this clubhouse.”

Duffey (7-8) permitted one run on four hits and struck out eight to win his second straight start. Three relievers combined for three hitless innings, and Brandon Kintzler finished for his 10th save in 11 chances.

“I feel like I’ve been a lot more consistent,” Duffey said. “That’s the biggest thing - my arm slot, release point, everything like that feels really good. Felt strong, and stuff was going where I wanted it to.”

Polanco, called up from the minors when the Twins traded All-Star infielder Eduardo Nunez to San Francisco, has hit .378 with six RBIs in nine games since being recalled.

Meanwhile, Molitor said Rosario will get a look in center field after the team sent Byron Buxton to Triple-A on Sunday. Rosario has hit .461 with four RBIs in six games as the starting center fielder.

“Those guys are picking us up,” Molitor said of Polanco, Rosario and Santana. “Can’t say enough about Polanco so far, just the quality of at-bats and what he’s doing for us.”

Collin McHugh (7-9) gave up three runs and 10 hits in seven innings, losing his third straight start. The Astros have dropped 10 of their past 13 games and are averaging 2.28 runs during that stretch.

FINDING A SPOT

Polanco’s offense hasn’t been much of a question mark for the Twins, but the organization has tried to find the right position for the 23-year-old Dominican infielder. He’s spent time at second base, third and shortstop.

After five straight games at third, Polanco moved to shortstop on Monday with third baseman Trevor Plouffe returning to the lineup. Minnesota is unsettled at shortstop after trading Nunez. Eduardo Escobar has received most of the playing time at the position since the trade.

“Maybe one of the better games I’ve ever seen him play at short,” Molitor said of Polanco. “He was clean, finished, threw with confidence. It was a good night for him all-around.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Plouffe started at third base after missing 32 games with a broken rib. He went 1 for 4.

UP NEXT

Hector Santiago (10-5, 4.37 ERA) makes his first home start for the Twins on Tuesday night. The left-hander was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels at the trade deadline and gave up four runs on five hits over five innings in his Minnesota debut at Cleveland. Houston counters with RHP Mike Fiers (7-5, 4.34), who tied a season high with seven strikeouts but took the loss against Toronto in his last appearance.

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