After an impressive finish to their nine-game homestand, the Twins will open a three-game set in Cleveland on Friday, as the Indians look to finish off a lengthy homestand of their own on a high note as well.
Minnesota arrives in Cleveland having just swept the division-rival White Sox to finish its homestand with a 6-3 record. The Tribe, meanwhile, is 4-2 through the first six games of its current nine-game stretch at Progressive Field, and the club sits in second place in the American League Central.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir (3-4, 5.89 ERA) gets the ball for Friday's opener, and while the Indians are 6-2 in their last eight games overall, Kazmir has had a forgettable June. He has accumulated a 7.98 ERA with two losses in three starts. The veteran southpaw said he felt great in his last outing against the Nationals, but the results said otherwise. Kazmir allowed five runs on four hits -- including three home runs -- and four walks in just 2 2/3 innings.
The Twins will counter with Samuel Deduno (3-1, 3.26 ERA), who has been solid since joining the rotation and turned in another strong outing on Saturday against the Tigers. The right-hander picked up the win by going seven innings, giving up just two runs on seven hits and a season-low one walk.
"You see hitters buckling. You see them back-legging on swings. That means they are not recognizing the pitch quick," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Deduno's last outing. "You saw him get a couple of counts where he'd get two quick balls or three quick balls, but he'd come back and pound the strike zone. That's all about being able to throw that fastball over. Normally, he'd have to go to a breaking ball to get a strike. But he was able to throw the fastball, and you saw the movement."
Three of Deduno's five starts this season have been against AL Central opponents. He's gone 2-1 in those outings, allowing two runs or fewer after surrendering six runs in 5 1/3 innings in his first start of the season against the Tigers.
Part of Deduno's recent success has been in his ability to better control his fastball. His heater has a lot of movement, which when controlled effectively, gives the righty a decisive advantage on the mound.
"That's the one that dives all over the place," Gardenhire said. "Commanding that fastball is huge for him, because hitters start sitting on the other things."
This weekend's series is just the second time the two teams have met in 2013. Cleveland took two of three from Minnesota on May 3-5 at Progressive Field. The Indians are in the midst of a stretch from June 17-July 14 that will see the club play 20 of its remaining 27 games leading up to the All-Star break against AL Central opponents.
Twins: Willingham returns to left field
Josh Willingham was back in left field for Thursday's series finale, one day after lingering discomfort in his left knee limited the slugger to designated-hitter duty.
Willingham had a cortisone shot in the knee on Saturday night, then returned to left field on Tuesday, only to experience further soreness on Wednesday. He went 1-for-4 with a walk and played the first eight frames in the outfield on Thursday before giving way to a defensive replacement in the ninth.
"Hammer came in feeling great and said he was feeling ready to go," Gardenhire said prior to Thursday's victory.
Indians: Perez to be re-evaluated
Indians closer Chris Perez thought he'd be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday for the start of a series against the Minnesota Twins.
That was before his tough rehab appearance on Tuesday, when he served up three homers in a five-run inning for Double-A Akron. On Wednesday, Tribe manager Terry Francona said Perez was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday.
"The good news is, physically, he feels really good," Francona said before Wednesday's 6-3 win over the Royals. "Mechanically, I think he's fighting it a little bit."
Perez, who went on the DL on May 27 with a right shoulder strain, allowed five hits and struck out two in the 23-pitch outing for Akron. Francona said the team would evaluate Perez again after Friday's bullpen session.
"He will come in [Thursday], get some treatment and play catch, and throw a bullpen [session] on Friday," Francona said. "Then, we'll go from there."
• Cleveland has secured three consecutive series wins for the first time since stringing together four straight April 30 to May 12.
• With Wednesday night's 6-3 win over the Royals, each of the Indians' last 15 games have been decided by three runs or fewer.
• Glen Perkins has recorded 18 saves this season, a career high for the Twins' closer.
Jeff Kirshman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.