The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - As the powerful Texas Rangers continued to whiff at the soft-throwing Brian Duensing, Minnesota Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson asked the rookie left-hander if he was turning into a strikeout pitcher.

"There's no chance that's happening," Duensing said. "It was one of those nights. Maybe there were some shadows in the Dome."

Whatever works.

Duensing pitched like a veteran in his third career start, striking out eight in seven innings to lead the Twins to a 3-2 victory over the Rangers on Friday night.

Duensing (2-1) allowed three hits and walked one for the Twins, who have won eight of their last 10 games to creep back into contention in the AL Central.

"He was fantastic," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He used all of his pitches. He changed speeds. It was really fun to watch."

Tommy Hunter (6-3) gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings for the Rangers, who got an RBI-double from David Murphy in the ninth and had the tying run on second base.

But Joe Nathan got Chris Davis looking on a close call for his 33rd save to pull Minnesota within four games of first-place Detroit in the division.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer had a run-scoring single and then made a key play when he threw out Elvis Andrus trying to steal second base in the eighth.

Duensing spent almost all of the first three months at Triple-A Rochester, and was being used primarily as a long reliever after being recalled at the beginning of July. Gardenhire inserted him into the rotation after injuries to Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano.

Duensing walked Ian Kinsler to start the game, but retired the next 11. He didn't allow a hit until Nelson Cruz singled with two outs in the fourth.

"Since I've been recalled, the game has really slowed down and I've been feeling really comfortable on the mound," Duensing said. "I'm still nervous, but I try and relax and just try and play catch. So far, so good, I guess."

Both teams are in the thick of the playoff chase. The Rangers, who took two of three from the New York Yankees in the Bronx, fell 2ĴO games behind Boston in the AL wild card.

The Twins have a steeper hill to climb to catch Detroit and get to the postseason.

They started the game Friday night with a sense of urgency, getting an RBI-single from Mauer, an RBI-triple from Jason Kubel and made it 3-0 when Michael Cuddyer bounced one off Hunter's thigh for an infield hit.

It was a rough night in that regard for Hunter, who later took a liner to the chest off the bat of Justin Morneau. But he was able to stay in the game after both shots, showing the kind of toughness that should endear him to manager Ron Washington and the rest of his teammates as they chase their first playoff appearance since 1999.

"I'm quite sure he'll have some black and blue marks but he just showed the battler that he is," Washington said. "But I guess you've got to give Duensing his credit too because he made those three runs stand up."

Michael Young extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a single in the sixth inning, but Murphy's double in the ninth just missed being a game-tying homer, bouncing high off the baggie in right field.

"Definitely the definition of coming up a little bit short right there," Murphy said.

NOTES: Twins 3B coach Scott Ullger can add another title to his resume: groundskeeper. The game paused briefly in the top of the third inning when Hunter complained about a high spot on the pitching mound. Ullger came out of the dugout with a rake and pounded it down, and the game resumed. … If all goes well, Gardenhire said RHP Jeff Manship will pitch Tuesday against Chicago. … Texas RHP Pedro Strop worked a perfect eighth inning in his ML debut. … Kinsler stole two bases and has 26 this season.