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Updated: July 15th, 2011 10:10pm
Twins Daily: Matt Capps spoils impressive outing by Nick Blackburn

Twins Daily: Matt Capps spoils impressive outing by Nick Blackburn

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS - There seems to be no end to Matt Capps' ninth inning struggles. A two-run homer by Eric Hosmer in the top of the ninth powered the Royals to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory, ruining a brilliant scoreless pitching performance by Twins starter Nick Blackburn.

The skinny

Nick Blackburn's last three starts were rocky at best, having surrendered a combined 18 earned runs in that stretch.

There was no sign of struggle on Friday as Blackburn coasted through seven efficient innings. He allowed just four hits, while striking out three batters.

"One of the biggest things is when I had two ground ball outs in the first inning," Blackburn said. "I haven't done that in a long time, so I think that was a big confidence booster and that let me know that I was keeping the ball down. I was just kinda able to run with that."

Royals pitcher Luke Hocheavar was equally brilliant, befuddling Twins batters for seven innings of three-hit baseball. He showed tremendous control throughout the game, but a wild pitch in the fourth allowed Ben Revere to score what looked like it would be the run that would preserve Blackburn's pitching gem.

That was, until the ninth when Hosmer blasted Capps' pitch soundly over the center field fence.

"Nobody expects more out of me than me and nobody's more let down right now than me and nobody's more disappointed than me right now," Capps said. "I mean this sucks. I don't know what else to say about it. This is not fun."

Capps was left to shoulder much of the blame for the loss, but the Twins did little to help their pitching staff.  Delmon Young was the only other Twins batter, apart from Revere, to have any success at the plate in the first eight innings before he and Jim Thome singled in the ninth.

The defeat was the Twins' first of the season's second half and drops them to seven games behind of division leader Cleveland.

Turning point

Two outs was all the Twins needed.

Nursing a 1-0 lead, Capps walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches to start the inning, but got Alex Gordon to ground out, putting a win well within his grasp.

However, a fastball up in the zone two pitches later to Hosmer erased any hopes Capps had of emerging from the inning unscathed.

"I tried to go in to Hosmer and it just ran back over the plate, and he put a good swing on it" Capps said.

Hosmer's home run stunned the capacity crowd at Target Field and left Capps to endure a chorus of boos as he exited the field.

It was Capps' seventh blown save of the year and second in the month of July. After giving up 11 hits and five earned runs in four appearances earlier this month, he bounced back with three scoreless outings against the White Sox in the final weekend before the All-Star break.

His recent control issues were glaringly back on display Friday night, throwing seven of his 19 pitches for balls, including the pitch he served up for an easy hit for Hosmer.

The disastrous ninth added even more fodder for Capps' detractors in the highly contested debate over who should be the Twins closer. But manager Ron Gardnehire lashed back at reporters when asked about the closer situation going forward.

"Please don't go there tonight," Gardenhire said. "The guy gave up a lead. Now you want to chop people's heads off. We scored one run tonight... We had plenty of chances to score more runs. Everything gets thrown on the closer. Sure he gave it up at the end, but a lot of people misfired too, so let's not cut him down too much here. The young man is a very good pitcher and our closer. We give him the ball and we have all the trust in the world in him. He didn't get it done tonight. That's all that happened."

Numbers game

3.99: Blackburn's ERA when he exited after the ninth -- a drop of 25 points from his ERA entering the game.

6.1: Consecutive scoreless innings pitched by Joe Nathan after he shut down the Royals in order in the eighth inning. He has allowed only one run and three hits since returning from the disabled list in late-June.

11: Infield hits for Ben Revere this season after his single in the fourth inning.

0: Appearances in 41 games for Trevor Plouffe in the outfield before getting the start in right field Friday.

Health watch

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained left foot) worked out on the field and in the batting cage on Friday. Kubel, who has been out since May 30, will leave Saturday to head to Rochester, where he will serve as the Red Wings' designated hitter on Sunday. "It's been way too long," Kubel said. I'm finally feeling well enough to do it." As for his return to the Twins' lineup, he is targeting next weekend's series against Detroit.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) was cleared by Major League Baseball Friday to start his minor-league rehabilitation assignment. He will travel to Rochester along with Kubel and begin playing in games starting Sunday. "I've been out for six weeks and it's been tough, but I'm just excited to get back to playing baseball," Span said. His rehab stint will likely last at least two weeks as he continues to gradually return to form.

• 1B Justin Morneau (neck surgery, wrist) is set to continue his current rehab program through the weekend before being reevaluated Monday, Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. The team has been happy with the progress he's made and are still targeting a mid-August return.

• RHP Scott Baker (strained right flexor muscle) threw a bullpen session Friday and is scheduled to pitch one of the Twins' two games against the Indians on Monday.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) struggled in his third start for Rochester on Friday, giving up three earned runs off six hits in 4.2 innings.

Overheard

"At first, I thought it would be a Not Top Ten play for a second. Then I looked at the third baseman and he was still kinda waving to get the ball in. Luckily, it went pretty good after that. It's not the first time I've done that either, so I need to quit doing that."

-- Revere on his head-first tumble between second and third en route to a triple in the sixth inning.

On deck

The Twins will send Carl Pavano (6-6, 4.10) to the mound Saturday for the third game of the four-game set. Pavano pitched just 5.1 innings in his first start against the Royals this season, giving up 12 hits and six earned runs. He was dominant, however, when he faced them again on June 3rd, allowing two earned runs in a complete game shutout. Following a rocky start to the year, Pavano's last ten starts have been solid, recording a 2.97 ERA in that stretch.

Countering Pavano is Royals lefty Jeff Francis (3-10, 4.60). In his two starts against the Twins this season, he surrendered a combined seven earned runs, but notched a victory in both appearances. His last five stars have been shaky, allowing 16 runs and 30 hits in 27.1 innings.

Coming up

• Sunday: vs. Kansas City, 1:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing 6-7, 4.13 ERA) vs. RHP Felipe Paulino (1-2, 3.38).
• Monday: vs. Cleveland, 12:10 p.m./7:10 p.m. (doubleheader). Starters TBD.
• Tuesday: vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m. Starters TBD

Albert Maruggi contributed

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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