MINNEAPOLIS -- Just when it looked like the Twins' offense was starting to click, they ran into Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison on Friday night at Target Field.
The Twins, who combined to score 16 runs in their previous two games against the Angels, managed to score just once against Harrison in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers. Harrison scattered seven hits and two walks over eight strong innings.
"It was a tough night at the plate for us mostly because of their pitching," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Harrison was outstanding. Lots of movement on his pitches. I talked to some lefties and the ball was really diving in on them hard. Made them conscious inside and then used the slider to finish them off."
Harrison was indeed effective against lefties, as Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combined to go 2-for-12 with three strikeouts against the left-hander.
Harrison was especially tough on Mauer and Morneau -- who both homered Thursday -- as they combined for just one hit and left four runners on base.
"They're both tough hitters but you still have to make good pitches on them," Harrison said. "The main thing I did was just mix my pitches and keep the ball down on them."
Span said Harrison, who has a 0.64 ERA this season, looks like he's improved since last year, which is impressive considering he posted a 3.39 ERA in 185 2/3 innings in 2011.
"I've faced him in the past and I don't remember him being as good as he was tonight," Span said. "Whatever he's done over his last two starts is working for him. I don't know if he changed his arm slot or something but he made good pitches."
Minnesota got on the scoreboard first with a run in the second inning on a sacrifice fly from Danny Valencia to score Josh Willingham, who walked and reached third on a bloop single from Ryan Doumit.
But the Rangers opened the fourth with four straight singles against right-hander Anthony Swarzak to bring home two runs. Luke Hughes then made an error on a grounder from Nelson Cruz to load the bases before David Murphy added a sacrifice fly.
Swarzak was particularly irked by Josh Hamilton's infield single after Elvis Andrus led off the frame with a single to center field, as the Twins looked like they would've been able to turn a double play if Swarzak hadn't fielded the ball.
"I just need to let it go, it's that simple," Swarzak said. "I have to know when to go for a ball and when not to. I'll take responsibility on that one. If I let it go, it's an easy double play and it's a whole different ballgame. So I'll lose sleep on that one."
Swarzak was then able to get out of the jam but gave up another run in the seventh on a home run from Ian Kinsler. It was Kinsler's fourth homer of the year, which ties him with Willingham for the most homers in the Majors this season.
Swarzak, likely making his last start before returning to the bullpen with Jason Marquis set to join the rotation Wednesday, surrendered four runs on nine hits over seven innings.
"They hit some balls hard," Swarzak said. "Denard Span made some good plays out there tracking some balls down for me. I made some pitches when I needed to but the bottom line is I gave up four earned and we got the loss."
Former Twins closer Joe Nathan didn't get the chance to close it out against his former club, as the Rangers turned to right-hander Alexi Ogando instead. Ogando didn't make it easy, as he plunked Willingham and gave up a single to Doumit but was able to get Valencia to ground out before retiring pinch-hitters Chris Parmelee and Sean Burroughs to end the game.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said Nathan was just getting the day off, as he pitched in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We just wanted to give him an extra day," Washington said. "He'll be in there [Saturday] if we need him."