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Updated: July 15th, 2010 10:47pm
Kevin Slowey picks up where Twins rotation left off in loss to White Sox

Kevin Slowey picks up where Twins rotation left off in loss to White Sox

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- John Danks and Kevin Slowey both got off to brutal starts on Thursday night.

Danks survived. Slowey didn't.

And that -- plus a few clutch hits -- was the difference for the Chicago White Sox, who overcame the Minnesota Twins' big second inning and emerged from the All-Star break by winning the opener of this important interdivision series 8-7 at Target Field.

Slowey's latest flat performance -- three-plus innings, five earned runs, nine hits and a home run on 75 pitches -- raised his earned-run average to 9.11 in his past six starts and picked up the Twins rotation's slump right where it left off.

"We've had a few guys struggle," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his starting pitchers, who excluding Carl Pavano are a combined 3-10 with an 8.05 ERA during the Twins' 6-14 slide.

"As I've said before, you can't replace everybody in the rotation -- these guys have to get it done. It's the same group that took us a long way last year. We won a division with 'em. We're not going to just pitch 'em. Our job is to try to get 'em right as much as we can.

"If it doesn't work out, then we've got to make a decision and make a move. We're trying to get 'em right. I think (pitching coach Rick Anderson)'s as good as they get at that, so we're trying to do the best we possibly can with them. It's not working out right now. If we make a move, we make a move."

The Twins (46-43) did make one move after the game, recalling Jeff Manship from Class-AAA Rochester to replace first baseman Justin Morneau (concussion) on the 25-man roster, but it was hardly an inspired decision. Manship has an 8.10 ERA over his past five starts for the Red Wings and got the nod primarily because the Twins need another rested arm for Friday's game.

Left-hander Brian Duensing would have been the logical pitcher to stretch out after Slowey's early exit on Thursday, but he missed the game with the flu. So, Gardenhire turned to struggling righty Alex Burnett, who got out of one jam in the fourth inning but created another in the fifth, balking in one run and then letting A.J. Pierzynski tattoo his next pitch for an RBI double.

"I don't know if it cost us the game, but it wasn't the greatest thing we've ever seen," Gardenhire said of the balk, which ended with Burnett sidewinding off the mound and dropping the ball.

"He just hung a spike on the mound, and rather than killing himself, he ends up holding onto the ball. If he would have tried to have thrown it, who knows where it would have ended up. That would have probably been worse than balking in a run. He just hung a spike -- what are you going to do?"

Pierzynski later scored what proved to be the winning run on Juan Pierre's groundout, charging Burnett with a third run that raised his ERA to 10.24 over his past 11 appearances.

The Twins still had chances to rally late, getting a runner to third in the bottom of the seventh inning and loading the bases with two outs in eighth before the White Sox brought in closer Bobby Jenks. Orlando Hudson fouled Jenks' first pitch hard off the inside of his right foot or ankle, needed a minute to shake off the pain and then struck out on a 2-2 curveball.

Outside of the second inning, it was that sort of night for the Twins, who stranded nine runners -- five of them in scoring position -- and got the potential tying run on base with Delmon Young's RBI single in the ninth before Jim Thome struck out looking on a 1-2 curveball on the outside corner.

That came hours after the Twins' Morneau-less lineup had Danks on the ropes in the second, when they scored six times with two outs and sent 11 to the plate. But the left-hander struck out Jason Kubel -- who fanned four times, three of them with runners in scoring position -- with two on to avoid the knockout, then faced only 14 batters while keeping the Twins scoreless over the next four innings.

It was enough for Danks to earn the win as the White Sox (50-38) finished off Slowey and ran their American League Central lead to a game over idle Detroit and 4½ over the slumping Twins, who have lost five of six and 14 of their last 20.

Slowey set the tone early, throwing 26 pitches in a first inning that saw the White Sox knock four singles and score twice on sacrifice flies by Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin.

"It was mostly location," Slowey said. "We had a pretty good game plan going in, and I wasn't able to execute. I didn't make enough pitches down in the zone, gave a lot of the top of their lineup too many pitches to get their bat on."

In the second, No. 9 hitter Gordon Beckham blasted a one-out homer into the second deck, and Juan Pierre and Omar Vizquel followed with consecutive singles -- the latter on a steal play that caught Hudson covering second base -- before another Rios sac fly brought in Pierre.

"They had a hit-and-run there where the ball was supposed to be away, we had the coverage for away, and (Slowey) yanks it inside and Vizquel hits one the other way," Gardenhrie said. "He was just missing, and it just wasn't a good performance."

The Twins roared back in the second, with Mauer -- who finished 3-for-4, including a leadoff double in the ninth before he scored on Young's single -- capping the six-run surge with a bases-loaded double into the left-field corner that scored three and made it 6-4.

Chicago got one back in the fourth on Gordon Beckham's RBI single, chasing Slowey, and then scored three times in fifth off reliever Alex Burnett to take a two-run lead.

That held up, and now it'll be up to another scuffling starter -- left-hander Francisco Liriano (6-7, 3.86 earned-run average) -- to snap the Twins out of their funk against righty Gavin Floyd (5-7, 4.20) in the second of this four-game set on Friday night.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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