Mauer, Twins take 3 1/2 game lead in AL Central

SEATTLE -- Scott Baker made a mechanical change last month and hasn't lost since. His bullpen has been modified, too, which could help Minnesota settle the American League Central race.

Joe Mauer had three hits and two RBIs to lead Baker and the first-place Twins to a 6-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.

The sixth three-hit game this month for Minnesota's $184 million native son -- plus Baker holding baseball's worst offensive team to five hits and two runs, and reliever Matt Guerrier escaping a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the eighth inning one night after struggling -- kept the Twins 3 1/2 games ahead of Chicago.

"Matty Guerrier was absolutely huge tonight," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Minnesota's bullpen has been scrambling since All-Star closer Joe Nathan went down before the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. Then the Twins lost left-handers Jose Mijares and Ron Mahay to injuries this month.

But before the game, Minnesota acquired four-time All-Star closer Brian Fuentes from the Los Angeles Angels. Gardenhire said the 35-year-old will set up fill-in closer Matt Capps and occasionally spell him.

Randy Flores relieved Baker (12-9) after Josh Wilson's RBI single in the seventh made it 6-2 and allowed the major league-leading 42nd infield hit by Ichiro Suzuki to load the bases with two outs. But Flores got Chone Figgins to ground out, then pumped his fist to punctuate his Twins debut. They claimed him off waivers from Colorado on Wednesday.

A situational reliever with the Rockies, Flores started his second inning in the eighth but immediately allowed Seattle to load the bases on a single, an error by first baseman Michael Cuddyer and a walk. Right-hander Guerrier entered and got Franklin Gutierrez to foul out on a 2-0 pitch. Adam Moore then bounced into an inning-ending double play, and Seattle fans in a crowd of 37,798 again booed as they have for most of their lost summer.

On Thursday, Guerrier allowed two runs while getting just two outs as the Twins blew most of a six-run lead before winning 6-4.

"Nobody wants to be out there more than Matty," said Baker, who struck out four and walked three in 6 2/3 innings to win his fifth consecutive decision. He joined Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano with at least a dozen wins for the Twins.

"After [Thursday], it was good for him. And good for us."

Suzuki singled, tripled and scored the first run in the third for Seattle on his bobblehead night, but the Mariners still lost for the fifth time in six games to drop to 28 games under .500.

Denard Span, Orlando Hudson and Mauer combined for six hits in their first 12 at-bats to help Minnesota build a 6-1 lead by the seventh. The top three batters in the Twins' lineup were 4-for-9 against starter Jason Vargas (9-7).

Vargas threw 28 pitches in his first inning and 30 in his last one, Minnesota's three-run sixth. He gave up nine hits and five runs, four earned, in six innings.

In his last start, Vargas allowed the Yankees four runs in the first.

"I don't think it was near as bad as his last outing in the first inning," Mariners interim manager Daren Brown said. "He left a few balls up in the zone, but overall it wasn't a bad job."

Game notes
After the game, the Twins sent LHP Glen Perkins to Triple-A Rochester to make roster room for Fuentes. ... Suzuki has 499 infield hits in his 10-year career. Mets 2B Luis Castillo is baseball's active leader with 528 entering Friday. ... The Twins, who beat Texas ace Cliff Lee on Thursday, are 19-9 against the AL West. They were 19-21 against that division last year and haven't had a winning record against it since 2007. ... Mariners second-round draft pick Marcus Littlewood, an 18-year-old infielder from St. George, Utah, took batting practice with the big club two weeks after signing just before the deadline to do so. Asked what took him so long to sign, Littlewood said he was conflicted by turning down a baseball scholarship he had already accepted with the University of San Diego.