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Updated: June 24th, 2010 4:36pm
Nick Blackburn rocked in 5-0 loss to Brewers; time in rotation dwindling?

Nick Blackburn rocked in 5-0 loss to Brewers; time in rotation dwindling?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Where's the panic button?

It's bad enough to be swept by the Brewers for the first time since 1989, following Thursday's 5-0 defeat. But to make things even worse, Nick Blackburn was taken out behind the woodshed once again.

Blackburn allowed five earned runs on six hits and three walks in only 3 2/3 innings. The blowup came in the third inning, when Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder each belted two-run homers.

It's been a weird season for Blackburn, who struggled mightily in April before pitching extremely well in May. Since the beginning of June, however, things have gone entirely awry for the right-handed sinker-baller.

Blackburn has thrown only 18 2/3 innings in five June starts, allowing 25 earned runs, 38 hits, nine walks and six home runs. In Blackburn's one solid start this month -- a seven-inning outing against Atlanta where he allowed only two earned runs -- he commented about how he left pitches up and was surprised the Braves didn't hammer him.

For the season, Blackburn's 111 hits allowed are the fifth-most of any starter in baseball. And in 15 total starts, Blackburn has allowed at least five earned runs seven times.

It's tough to get shellacked much more than that.

On top of getting hit hard, Blackburn has also been unable to pitch deep into games -- something the Twins hoped he could do on a regular basis this season. After throwing at least seven inning in five May starts, Blackburn has failed to pitch beyond four innings in four of his last five starts.

At what point does Blackburn need a break from the starting rotation? After getting swept, the Twins' division lead is down to one game over the Tigers, and two games over the White Sox, who have now won 13 of their last 14. The Twins showed they aren't shy about making roster moves, outrighting Brendan Harris to Class-AAA Rochester in favor of OF Jason Repko.

If Brian Duensing's 3 1/3 innings of clean relief on Thursday are any indication, the Twins may be looking at a rotation change sometime soon -- or at least preparing for the possibility. Duensing, who threw 47 pitches, hasn't been stretched out that far that all season.

The Twins also have Jeff Manship on the roster, who started a game on May 1 in Cleveland when Blackburn was temporarily placed on the family emergency list.

And, of course, there is the Cliff Lee speculation, which simply won't go away.

If Kevin Slowey pitches poorly against the Mets on Friday night -- and he has allowed 12 earned runs combined in his last two (short) starts -- the Twins could really feel the pressure to make a change of some sort.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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