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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joey Gallo has made plenty of progress at the plate this season for the Texas Rangers.
Those home runs just keep going and going, too.
Gallo's latest massive homer was a three-run shot in the fourth inning Thursday night that spurred the Rangers to a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, making A.J. Griffin a winner in his first start in more than two months.
Gallo has 29 home runs this year, with four long balls in the last three games.
"He's getting better every day that he goes out there," manager Jeff Banister said, praising Gallo's evolution beyond a pure pull hitter.
After swinging and missing twice at sliders from Twins starter Adalberto Mejia, Gallo let one go in the dirt. Then he drove the next pitch, another slider, into the front of the second deck above right-center field with two outs to break the tie.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton just turned around and stared straight up as the ball soared over his head. The estimates by Major League Baseball's Statcast tracking system were a distance of 430 feet and an exit velocity of 108 mph off the bat.
"I got pretty lucky. If that pitch was maybe a couple more inches off the plate, I'm probably not doing this interview," Gallo said. "That's baseball."
Though still prone to extended slumps and voluminous strikeouts, the 23-year-old Gallo has capably settled in after two seasons of going back-and-forth to the minor leagues. This was his first major league game at Target Field, where he wowed at the All-Star Futures game with a long home run and a batting practice bop that broke a window on a truck parked on the plaza beyond right field for a promotion.
Byron Buxton's RBI double was one of only three hits all night by the Twins, who returned from a 2-6 road trip to California. They had the lead with six outs to go in four of those losses, with three coming in the opponent's final at-bat.
BACK IN ACTION
Griffin (5-2) gave up one run and two hits over six innings, a resounding return from a muscle strain in his chest. He last started on May 26 and last won on May 9.
"I had those first-day-of-school jitters a little bit last night and stuff," Griffin said. "Excited, and a little nervous."
Mejia (4-5) let the first three Rangers batters reach base, with Nomar Mazara driving in a run with a single, but the rookie lefty rebounded to not only strike out the side but fan the first two hitters of the second inning, too. Mejia was then one strike away from escaping the fateful fourth as well, until Gallo made him pay for a slider that caught too much of the plate.
"It's the repetitiveness of the pitch, and the guy having a chance to see the spin and knowing where it has to start to be hittable," Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
GEE, ANOTHER ONE?
Dillon Gee relieved Mejia to start the fifth, becoming the franchise-record 30th pitcher used by Minnesota this season. Gee, who was let go by the Rangers on June 16, has been on the Twins' roster for seven days. He finally got in.
"Hey, man, I'm the long guy. If you're not using me it's probably a pretty good thing," Gee said.
Rangers: Griffin came off the 60-day DL after being sidelined with a strained left intercostal muscle. RHP Clayton Blackburn, who was on the roster for three days but did not pitch, was sent to Triple-A Round Rock to make room.
Twins: LHP Glen Perkins (shoulder) pitched a scoreless inning for Class A Fort Myers in a rehab outing and will likely be moved up to Double-A Chattanooga next week. His fastball has maxed out at 90 mph. Perkins has not appeared for the Twins since April 10, 2016.
Rangers: LHP Martin Perez (5-9, 5.13 ERA) pitches Friday night, after a season-most eight runs allowed over 4 1/3 innings against Baltimore in his last turn. He has lost three straight starts.
Twins: RHP Bartolo Colon (2-9, 7.70) takes the mound for the fourth time since joining the team following his release by Atlanta. The 44-year-old has given up 10 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, without a victory. Molitor also announced that RHP Kyle Gibson will return from Triple-A to start on Saturday.
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