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Updated: June 26th, 2011 4:05pm
Twins Daily: Braun and Fielder take it to Twins again as skid hits 5

Twins Daily: Braun and Fielder take it to Twins again as skid hits 5

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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Carl Pavano allowed five earned runs for the first time in nine starts as the Minnesota Twins, with bats silent again, lost 6-2 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, suffering their first sweep since beginning a June winning surge more than three weeks ago.

The skinny

Sunday's formula for a Twins loss was the same as it had been all weekend -- heavy doses of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun with just a sprinkling of Minnesota bats.

Braun's two-run homer in the fifth inning put the Brewers up for good, and Fielder's RBI single gave them more cushion, as the two combined to go 6-for-21 over the weekend with two walks, two doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs.

Pavano left after six innings, allowing five earned runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out five.

Meanwhile, the Twins offense scored only two runs on eight hits -- six of them singles -- and two walks, marking the fifth straight time the team has scored three runs or fewer.

Not coincidentally, all five of those meager offensive performances have resulted in losses, dropping the Twins back to 12 games under .500 just days after they rolled off 15 wins in 17 games.

Turning point

For a minute, it looked like Pavano was about to pitch out of a key fifth-inning jam, but his inability to do so wound up leading to the back-breaking blow.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy led off the frame by bouncing a groundball down the left field line which Jason Repko misplayed, turning it from a double to a triple.

Pavano immediately battled back, inducing a groundball off the bat of pitcher Chris Narveson to a drawn-in Alexi Casilla at second for the first out, then fanning Rickie Weeks on an off-speed pitch for the second out.

But Nyjer Morgan bounced a single up the middle past a diving Casilla to tie the game 1-1, and Braun followed shortly after with a rocket home run to center field, giving Milwaukee a 3-1 lead.

Numbers game

14: The number of times Joe Mauer has played first base in his professional career -- 13 games with Single-A Quad Cities in 2002 and once for Single-A Fort Myers in 2003. Mauer will take practice reps at first base when the team returns home Monday, manager Ron Gardenhire said in an interview with 1500 ESPN. "He's a great athlete. I'm sure he can do these things, and that would give him more opportunities to play him somewhere else and not let him get beat up and also keep his bat in the lineup pretty much all the time, and that's what I'm trying to work towards."

51%: Tsuyoshi Nishioka's groundball percentage heading into Sunday, which ranks as the fourth highest groundball rate on the team behind Ben Revere (69%), Joe Mauer (69%) and Alexi Casilla (60%). Despite this, Gardenhire said the team is trying to get a hold of some video of Nishioka's swing in Japan to see if he is doing anything differently. Gardenhire added that he'd like to see Nishioka hit more groundballs because "that will play better with his speed." After a 2-for-4 performance on Sunday, Nishioka is now hitting .200/.267/.255 on the season.

Health report

• OF Delmon Young (sprained ankle) was placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday after an awkward collision with the left-field wall that Gardenhire described as "scary" on Sunday morning. "(X-rays) showed no break in any bones, but we haven't done the MRI to make sure the structure inside the ankle is good," Gardenhire said. "But he definitely can't put any pressure on it."

• 1B Justin Morneau (wrist, neck) will likely remain sidelined until August after electing to undergo surgery to repair a pinched nerve in his neck. "He had seen a couple different specialists," Gardenhire said, "and finally, because the arm strength in his left arm wasn't getting any better, they realized this was something that needed to be taken care of."

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained foot) is close to heading out on a rehab assignment. Gardenhire said he'd like to see Kubel's rehab assignment last five or six days and 30-35 at-bats. "The one thing we've been seeing is we need to make sure they get plenty of at-bats in the minor leagues and not come back up here on a trial basis and work their way back into it."

• OF Denard Span (concussion) "has had some pretty good days lately," Gardenhire said, and he might be nearing a rehab stint soon as well.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) is scheduled to pitch three or four innings and/or 50 pitches on Wednesday, according to Fox Sports North, but the team has not decided where he will pitch yet.

Overheard

"I have no problem with what Joe does behind the plate at all, and I don't think anybody should."
-- Gardenhire, on 1500 ESPN Sunday, referring to Friday's post-game verbal joust between Mauer and left-hander Jose Mijares. Coincidentally, Mauer stayed in the game to catch after pinch-hitting on Sunday, and Mijares happened to be the reliever summoned to enter the game. With a runner on third base, Prince Fielder came to the plate. Mijares got ahead 0-2, and Mauer called for a slider on the outer half of the plate -- unlike Friday, when six straight fastballs caused the pitcher and catcher to take verbal jabs at each other. Mijares left the slider over the plate, and Fielder ripped it into center field for an RBI single.

On deck

The Twins will return home to Target Field Monday for a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN), a team they last faced, and swept, in June of 2006. The Twins mowed through the Dodgers during a stretch where they won 21 out of 23 games and reinserted themselves back into the American League playoff picture.

Right-hander Nick Blackburn (6-5, 3.15) is in the midst of having a career year, inducing a career-high 53% groundballs while allowing two earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 15 outings.

Blackburn will face right-hander Chad Billingsley (6-6, 4.48), who hasn't pitched more than 5 1/3 innings in any of his last four starts. On the surface, looking at his poor won-loss record and high ERA, it appears as if Billingsley is struggling mightily this season. But his 3.35 FIP suggests those numbers are due for a turnaround.

Coming up

• Tuesday: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 7:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (4-7, 4.54) vs. LHP Ted Lilly (5-7, 4.63).
• Wednesday: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 12:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (5-5, 3.39) vs. RHP Rubby De La Rosa (3-2, 5.26).
• Thursday: Off day

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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