State of the Twins, Week 9: Blackburn, Span and health taking hits
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Have the Minnesota Twins ever needed a day off in a worse way?
For the second straight day, they took the field on Sunday without four regulars and couldn't overcome another disastrous start by Nick Blackburn in a 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics, who avoided the first home sweep against the Twins since 1997.
The 3-4 road trip against two mediocre American League West foes surely would sting worse had the Twins not been battling bruises, viruses and circumstances throughout the week.
Now, they have a day off to get it together for a three-game set against Kansas City before starting a 15-game stretch of interleague play against surging Atlanta.
Here's how things stand through nine weeks:
• LF Delmon Young: Though he remains shaky in the field (see: Sunday's adventures in Oakland), Young is heating up at the plate in a big way. He factored in both victories at Oakland, driving in five runs combined, and blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning Sunday to pull the Twins within a run. Young now has hit safely in eight of his past nine games, batting .324 (11-for-34) and slugging .588 with two home runs and 12 RBIs.
• RHP Kevin Slowey: He didn't factor in the decision Wednesday at Seattle, but Slowey turned in another solid start -- one run on five hits over seven innings with three strikeouts and one walk. After failing to complete six innings in six consecutive starts, Slowey has done it twice in a row, allowing only two runs total over 13 2/3 innings (1.32 ERA). It's a small sample size, but at least Slowey seems to be getting his pitch count under control.
• RHP Nick Blackburn: For as good as Blackburn was in May, his June is shaping up more like his underwhelming April. He only lasted 2 2/3 innings on Sunday and gave up five runs on 10 hits -- the same numbers he allowed in 3 2/3 innings Tuesday at Seattle. To put that in perspective, Blackburn never went fewer than seven innings in five starts in May, when he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA. His ERA in 6 1/3 June innings is 14.21 -- indicative of a sinkerballer who suddenly is struggling again to induce ground-ball outs (two on Sunday).
• CF Denard Span: It was a brutal West Coast swing for Span, who went 2-for-30 (.067) -- including a five-game stretch in which he went hitless and reached base only once. Granted, Span had more than one bad break on a hard-hit ball, but the numbers don't lie. Even worse, the cast of thousands trying to fill Orlando Hudson's shoes in the No. 2 spot combined to go 2-for-28 -- making the Twins' 1-2 hitters 4-for-58 (.069) over seven games. The good news for Span is the Twins play their next nine games at Target Field, where he's hitting .374/.460/.477 this season, compared to .172/.231/.250 on the road.
HOW THEY STAND
1. Twins (33-24)
2. Detroit (29-27) 3.5 GB
3. Chicago (24-32) 8.5 GB
4. Kansas City (24-34) 9.5 GB
5. Cleveland (21-34) 11.0 GB
• 2B Orlando Hudson (wrist) missed the entire road trip following last Sunday's collision with Span at Target Field. If Hudson can't play by Tuesday, he could be headed for the disabled list.
• 1B Justin Morneau (flu) missed consecutive starts to close the Oakland series but pinch hit in each game and presumably should be OK after Monday's off day.
• SS J.J. Hardy (wrist) continues to experience pain and didn't start the last two games of the Oakland series.
• 2B Alexi Casilla (elbow) had surgery Friday to clean up bone spurs and will miss four to eight weeks.
• RP Clay Condrey (right elbow strain), who hasn't pitched this season, remains on the 15-day disabled list. He recently resumed throwing, but there is no timetable for his return.
• RF Michael Cuddyer (bereavement list) is expected to be activated for Tuesday's game, meaning the Twins will need to make a corresponding move to open a spot on the 25-man roster.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Monday: Off.
• Tuesday: vs. Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Zack Greinke (1-7, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Slowey (6-3, 3.84).
• Wednesday: vs. Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. RHP Kyle Davies (4-4, 5.49) vs. RHP Carl Pavano (5-6, 4.11).
• Thursday: vs. Kansas City, 7:10 p.m. LHP Bruce Chen (2-0, 2.95) vs. RHP Scott Baker (5-4, 4.52).
• Friday: vs. Atlanta, 7:10 p.m. RHP Tim Hudson (6-1, 2.44) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.10).
• Saturday: vs. Atlanta, 6:10 p.m. RHP Derek Lowe (8-4, 4.44) vs. RHP Nick Blackburn (6-3, 5.21).
• Sunday: vs. Atlanta, 1:10 p.m. RHP Kris Medlen (3-1, 2.79) vs. Slowey.