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SEA@TOR: Vargas hurls six strong frames, despite loss

The Twins' dugout will look a little emptier on Friday when Minnesota takes on the Mariners.

Ron Gardenhire, the Twins' manager since 2002, will miss the weekend series in Seattle to attend his daughter's graduation from Southwest Minnesota State. Bench coach Scott Ullger will serve as manager and will be able to contact Gardenhire, if necessary.

"It will be pretty tough going through all this graduation stuff, but I'll have my phone and my iPad," Gardenhire said. "I have total trust in Scotty and those guys running the ballgame. If they have any questions they can call me. But Scotty and that staff is pretty good. They've been doing it a long time."

The Mariners, meanwhile, are just getting home after a three-city road trip and will embark on a four-city excursion after this six-game homestand concludes. Seattle has played 18 of its first 27 games on the road, and manager Eric Wedge wants his players to enjoy being at home while they can.

"These guys need to get back home, even though when we get back, there's only enough time to unpack and pack again," Wedge said. "It's been a tough grind for everybody, but these guys are not [complaining] about it. They're standing up to it. And they're the ones that have to handle it.

"I think they've done a nice job with it. It'll all come back to them and to us as a big-league organization. I think with everything they've endured this year, they've handled it well, all things considered."

Minnesota will start Carl Pavano in Friday's opener, and he'll be matched against Seattle southpaw Jason Vargas. Pavano is on working on two extra days' rest because of a rainout last Saturday and Thursday's off-day, and Gardenhire is hoping that he can parlay that into an outstanding start.

"That's a good thing," Gardenhire said. "He enjoyed that. I think he liked that. He's been able to do some things. But you never know until you get back there on the mound."

Pavano struggled throughout the opening month of the season, allowing four or more runs in three of five starts. He has, however, eaten up a lot of innings, tossing at least six in each outing.

Vargas, meanwhile, has been fairly consistent. The left-hander threw six innings and gave up two earned runs in his last outing against Toronto and wound up with the loss.

"I got behind a lot, started a lot of guys 2-0," Vargas said after the game. "They made me work a little bit, took some pitches. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes it was me. And sometimes I was making good pitches and they weren't swinging and they were balls, I guess."

Twins: Morneau back with team
Designated hitter Justin Morneau could return to action Friday after getting his left wrist examined and receiving good news. An MRI showed only inflammation in his ailing wrist.

"He'll be fine," Gardenhire said Wednesday. "He got everything checked out. Let him get his treatment and all those things. He's not going to swing today. And we'll get back Friday and see how he's doing Friday, with the possibility of getting in Friday. We'll just see how he feels."

Mariners: Kawasaki catching
With veteran Miguel Olivo on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin, the Mariners are looking to infielder Munenori Kawasaki to be their emergency catcher. Kawasaki was an eight-time All-Star shortstop in Japan and has played at third base, shortstop and second base with Seattle.

"He's the first guy that came to mind," said Wedge. "I guess that covers about everything, when I think about him. He has good hands, he's a good athlete, he's more than willing and able to do everything."

Worth noting
• Seattle has lost six straight games, a skid that comes on the heels of four straight victories.

• Minnesota reliever Jared Burton has forced opponents into an 0-for-24 batting skid.

• The Mariners will also play host to the Tigers for a three-game series before heading back on the road.

• Seattle has struck out at least 10 times in three of the last four games. The Mariners whiffed eight times on Thursday.

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