MINNEAPOLIS -- Levale Speigner provided the spark the Minnesota Twins were eager for. The problem was that he was pitching for the other side.
Levale Speigner surprised his former employer by cruising through six innings, Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run homer off Johan Santana, and the Washington Nationals beat the Twins 3-1 on Saturday night.
"I just wanted the kid to come out of that game on some kind of positive note," Nationals manager Manny Acta said, adding: "I thought it was going to get to him a little bit pitching against his old team and 40,000 people and going against Johan Santana. But he saved the best for today."
Santana wasn't quite good enough again for defending AL Central champion Minnesota. He completed seven innings and one of his runs was unearned, but he fell to 6-6 while the Twins lost their sixth game in the last seven.
"Pretty disappointing for everyone out there in this clubhouse," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When Johan pitches, we all feel we should win."
Including Santana, who didn't sugarcoat his frustration with the lack of support.
"I'm really happy with everything I have done. I know what it takes for me to do my job. Hopefully my teammates feel the same way and find a way to improve and then do a better job out there," he said.
Nobody would argue with that, especially with an opponent on the mound who posted a 14.44 ERA over his four previous starts.
Speigner (2-2) threw his breaking ball for strikes throughout the night, moved his fastball in and out and sneaked some backdoor sliders in. Only Justin Morneau, who hit his 17th homer in the second inning, solved him. Subbing in the rotation with four starters hurt, Speigner walked one and struck out three.
"I finally put some things together," said Speigner, who was taken by Washington in the Rule 5 draft last winter after being drafted by the Twins in the 14th round in 2003.
Chad Cordero closed it out, stranding runners at the corner in the ninth for his eighth save -- and 99th of his career.
In addition to dropping another one to the Nationals, who have the second-worst record in the NL, Minnesota lost left fielder Jason Kubel to a sprained right knee in the early innings. He said it wasn't serious, but he was to be re-evaluated Sunday.
It's only been two games, but Washington seems at home at the Metrodome. Maybe it's because the Twins were born as the original Washington Senators before moving to Minnesota in 1961.
The Nationals won for the seventh time in their last eight road games, getting three more hits from streaking shortstop Cristian Guzman. So maybe it's because this is a better place to hit in than vast, archaic RFK Stadium.
"I hate to keep saying it, but our park takes a lot of hits away from a lot of people," Zimmerman said.
Santana started slow in his Cy Young seasons in 2004 and 2006 and usually hasn't discovered his dominant rhythm until June, but that hasn't happened yet this year for a Twins team that has just been hovering around the .500 mark.
He had trouble putting some of the Nationals away in the first two innings, reaching 42 pitches by that point, and served up the three-run homer to Zimmerman in the third that stuck him with a 3-1 deficit.
Nook Logan reached ahead of the homer on third baseman Nick Punto's fielding error on a routine grounder, but Guzman preceded Zimmerman with a sharp single.
"They put the ball in play," Santana said. "When you're able to do that, you're going to have a pretty good chance."
Santana gave up seven hits, two earned runs and didn't walk anyone while striking out five. That's a fine line for most pitchers, but substandard for him on a night when the Twins really needed a win.
Guzman, a Twins regular from 1999-2004, is 23-for-39 over his last nine games and has raised his average to .352. ... Santana has allowed 13 homers in 13 starts. He gave up 24 in 34 starts in both of his Cy Young seasons. ... Jason Bergmann (elbow) and Jerome Williams (shoulder) each threw bullpen sessions for Washington with "no pain whatsoever," Acta said. They could be back in the rotation within the two weeks. ... Minnesota RF Michael Cuddyer threw out former teammate Tony Batista, who was trying for a double in the fourth inning. Cuddyer leads the majors with 13 outfield assists. ... Zimmerman has 27 RBI in his last 28 games.