MINNEAPOLIS — Gio Gonzalez was locked in a 0-0 duel with Nick Blackburn when the Minnesota Twins opened the fifth inning with two straight singles.
That’s when second baseman Mark Ellis paid him a visit, telling the young lefty to not worry if he gave up a run or two. The Oakland Athletics’ offense, Ellis told him, would get the runs right back.
“Which was a lie, obviously,” Ellis said with a wry grin.
Gonzalez pitched six sharp innings and the Athletics’ offense was just a little less futile than Minnesota’s in Oakland’s 1-0 victory over the Twins on Saturday night.
Gonzalez (2-0) allowed four hits with four strikeouts and two walks, which allowed the A’s to overcome stranding 11 runners on base. Brian Fuentes earned his second save of the season with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
“We’re very fortunate to have the pitching we have,” A’s manager Bob Geren said.
Nick Blackburn (1-1) allowed an unearned run on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts in six innings for the Twins, who continue to struggle with the bats.
The top four hitters in Minnesota’s lineup went a combined 1-for-15 with a single and a walk. Minnesota has scored just 21 runs in its first eight games this season.
“We have a lot of run-producers that are supposed to be driving the ball for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s kind of a team thing. It’s not an individual thing.”
The Twins entered the night with the second-fewest runs in the AL, while the Athletics were just two runs ahead of them.
Fittingly, the only run of the game came when Kurt Suzuki scored on a throwing error by Twins shortstop Alexi Casilla in the sixth inning, which means no RBI was awarded in the game.
“Tight games like that are great,” Gonzalez said. “They keep you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails.”
With both teams struggling to score early in the season, the hitters seemed to be squeezing the bat a little tighter on a chilly night at Target Field.
The Athletics were a little aggressive early trying to get something going, and it cost them. Daric Barton tried to score from second base on a sharply hit single to left field by Josh Willingham, but Delmon Young’s throw beat Barton to the plate by five feet to end the inning.
In the fifth, David DeJesus popped up to center field on a 3-0 pitch to end the inning, another sign that the A’s might be pressing a little bit early in the season.
The Twins haven’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut themselves, and they struggled again to generate much against another A’s lefty. Brett Anderson shut them down for seven innings Friday before the Twins scored two in the eighth to squeak out a 2-1 win.
Gonzalez had them on ice Saturday night as well. The Twins hit just two balls out of the infield in the first four innings before leading off the fifth with singles by Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes to give them runners at the corners with nobody out.
But Gonzalez refocused, getting Casilla to ground out to the pitcher, Denard Span to pop out to shortstop and Joe Mauer to ground out to second base to escape unscathed. Mauer is hitting .231 this season, Justin Morneau is at .185 and Young is hitting .179.
“He threw the ball really well,” Ellis said. “He just gets better every time he goes out there.”
The Athletics took a 1-0 lead in the sixth when Suzuki singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then scored when Casilla bounced a throw in front of Morneau at first base on a grounder by Ellis.
“We’re all working hard and doing the best we can,” Geren said. “We’re all feeling positive about the pitching … it’s actually a stress reliever if you don’t have to get a lot of runs if we’re pitching like that.”
Notes: Gardenhire received his AL Manager of the Year award in a brief pregame ceremony. Gardenhire finished second in the voting five times before finally winning last year. … Geren said RHP Rich Harden, on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle under his right shoulder, will throw to hitters on Monday.