ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The back end of the rotation has been a major problem this season for the Los Angeles Angels, so manager Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher are hoping Joel Pineiro's best starts are ahead of him with the club still in playoff contention.
Pineiro posted his first victory in almost two months, leading the Angels to a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in the rubber game of the weekend series.
Los Angeles remained 3½ games behind AL West-leading Texas, which won 11-4 at Boston.
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"Every game I go out there I want to contribute and not just count on the big three, like we've been doing all year," Pineiro said. "Hopefully me and Tyler Chatwood, or whoever is at the back of the rotation can help our team the rest of the season. We need it."
Pineiro (6-6) allowed a run and five hits over seven innings. The right-hander, making his third start since a brief demotion to the bullpen, was 0-3 with a whopping 10.30 ERA in six starts since beating Seattle 9-3 on July 9 at Angel Stadium.
"I'm just trusting my stuff now and believing in not trying to invent the wheel," said Pineiro, who made three relief appearances before returning to the rotation. "I'm just finding my sinker, working down in the zone and being aggressive with it instead of just trying to get a feel for it. Today I had a good sinker that stayed down and I got a lot of ground-ball outs, and I also had good defense behind me."
Bobby Abreu homered for the Angels, and Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells added insurance runs with RBI singles in the eighth inning. Rookie Jordan Walden followed Scott Downs out of the bullpen with a hitless ninth to get his 28th save in 37 chances.
Scioscia gave Abreu a day off on Saturday, ending any chance he had of playing in 150 or more games for the 14th consecutive season. He remains tied with Willie Mays for the major league record in that category.
"I don't control that," Abreu said. "I don't want a day off. I just like to play every single day. But there's nothing I can do about it. Today I hit a homer that helped the team win, and that's all that really matters to me."
Abreu connected in the first for his seventh homer, hitting a towering drive to right field on a 3-2 pitch that ended up in the back of the old Angels bullpen. It ended a home run drought of 18 games and 60 at-bats since his tiebreaking two-run shot against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera on Aug. 9 in New York.
"It's been a long time since I hit a homer," he said. "I think that I need to just work on my approach. I don't feel the same a little bit. Sometimes I just miss pitches that I used to hit, so I've been going to the video to see what I've been doing wrong and make my adjustments."
Minnesota starter Kevin Slowey (0-4) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings before calling it a day because of a slight hamstring problem. Twins catcher Joe Mauer returned to the lineup as the designated hitter, going 1 for 2 with a homer and two walks after missing two games because of an upper respiratory infection.
The Angels made it 2-0 in the third when second baseman Trevor Plouffe lost track of the number of outs and didn't attempt a relay to first following Howie Kendrick's one-out grounder to third. Hank Conger scored on the play and Kendrick was credited with his 51st RBI.
Plouffe apologized to Slowey after the inning ended.
"Slowey pitched well and he doesn't deserve that," Plouffe said. "Bottom line, it's just a stupid play. Every play is big. But we all know that mistakes happen. Gardy [manager Ron Gardenhire] said: 'Forget about it. You've got a big at-bat coming up. Let's go.' That's what a good manager would say. That's what he said to me and that's what I did. I'll tell you what, it's not going to happen again to me."
Mauer got the Twins on the board in the fourth with his second home run of an injury-plagued season that has limited the three-time AL batting champ to just 73 games. He had a career-high 28 homers in 2009, when he was the AL MVP.
- The Angels increased their active roster to 31 players by recalling RHP Trevor Bell from Triple-A Salt Lake to help shore up their bullpen.
- The Angels' Orem farm club in the Advanced Rookie League made the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season under manager Tom Kotchman. Three of the players in Sunday's Angels lineup -- Kendrick, Erick Aybar and 1B Mark Trumbo -- started out on that club. So did CF Peter Bourjos, who had the day off.
- The Angels are 6-4 this season when they get a first-inning home run -- including Saturday night's 10-6 victory, which Trumbo ignited with his first career grand slam.
- Aybar extended his hitting streak to 14 games with two singles, including his 11th bunt hit of the season.
- Conger threw out Jason Kubel and Danny Valencia trying to steal second base in the second and fifth innings, respectively. The rookie came in having thrown out only eight of 58 baserunners trying to steal.
- Downs has not allowed an earned run in 27 2/3 career innings against Minnesota, spanning 26 appearances.