DETROIT – Dontrelle Willis pitched four-hit ball over six-plus innings in perhaps his best performance with the Detroit Tigers, a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.
Willis (1-1) struck out six — his highest total since 2007 when he was with the Florida Marlins — and walked only two. Joel Zumaya struck out two in two perfect innings and Jose Valverde pitched a hitless ninth for his seventh save in eight chances.
Johnny Damon's sacrifice fly in the first put the Tigers ahead 1-0, Austin Jackson's RBI single in the fifth made it 2-0 and Don Kelly's two-out single in the eighth gave them a three-run cushion.
Carl Pavano (3-2) gave up three runs — two earned — on seven hits and two walks over eight innings for the Twins.
Valverde walked Orlando Hudson to lead off the ninth, then got Michael Cuddyer to hit into a double play and Jim Thome to strike out to complete the four-hitter.
Detroit won the three-game series in its first matchup with the Twins since they won Game No. 163 last year to earn the AL Central title.
Willis will give the Tigers a better chance to stay in contention with the division-leading Twins if he can continue to pitch well after winning only one game in the last two seasons for them.
He showed signs of promise — relatively speaking — in his first four outings of the season, walking no more than three batters and giving up a total of 10 runs.
The patient Twins forced Willis to throw strikes and he did, leaving them looking at a called third strike at times during his 101-pitch afternoon.
Detroit gave him some early run support as Jackson led off the first with a single, stole second, advanced on an error and scored on Damon's fly.
Scott Sizemore hit a double in the fifth and Jackson — a fellow rookie — hit another single to send him home.
The Twins, though, didn't put their best lineup on the field.
They kept first baseman Justin Morneau out for a second straight day, playing it safe with his stiff back, and rested catcher Joe Mauer until using him as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning.
NOTES: Detroit OF Magglio Ordonez's singled in the fourth inning, becoming the sixth Venezuelan and 260th player in the majors with 2,000 hits ... The Twins kept SS J.J. Hardy out of the lineup because of a toe injury.