Twins Daily: Nick Blackburn escapes trouble on way to completed sweep
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Cuddyer's solo home run provided enough offense on Thursday afternoon for the Minnesota Twins, who got eight shutout innings from Nick Blackburn, a long-overdue save from Matt Capps and a 1-0 win to sweep their rain-shortened series from the Chicago White Sox.
Blackburn allowed seven hits, walked one and committed a throwing error that could have proven costly in the early going.
But time and again, the right-hander found his way out of trouble, throwing 95 pitches (68 strikes) and striking out one as the White Sox (33-37) left eight on base, plus another in the ninth.
"That whole team is an aggressive team," Blackburn said. "No one's up there trying to work the count too much. Lot of first-pitch swingers, and guys are trying to put it in play early in the at-bat. When everything's coming out of my hand pretty well, that sometimes plays to my advantage."
In five April starts, Blackburn was 1-4 with a 5.14 earned-run average, 14 strikeouts and nine walks. In nine starts since, he is 5-0 with a 2.29 ERA with 15 walks and 33 strikeouts.
"He's just been on top of the ball and letting it move, not trying to overthrow the ball," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's got a nice little cutter off his sinker, so he goes both ways with it, and he's learned how to add and subtract (speed) pretty good. A four-pitch mix, and he's in control of the games. He's been doing that for a while."
Cuddyer drove a 2-2 fastball into the bullpen in left-center field in the second inning and the Twins (28-39) never gave up the lead on the way to their 11th win in 13 games.
Adam Dunn singled with one out in the ninth against Capps, who hadn't pitched since June 8 because of a sore wrist. But Gordon Beckham struck out on a fastball down and in, and pinch hitter Omar Vizquel went down on a check-swing strikeout to end it.
The Twins remained nine games back in the division race, thanks to Detroit's 6-2 win against Cleveland that thrust the Tigers (38-31) into first place in the American League Central.
Twice, a Twins error helped the White Sox advance a runner to third base. Twice, the runner stayed there.
Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski had singled to open the second inning when Alex Rios ripped a line drive that Blackburn caught. Both runners had time to get back to their bases, but Blackburn tried to throw to first anyway, and the ball sailed past Luke Hughes.
That put runners on second and third with one out. But Adam Dunn's fly to short left had no chance of scoring the slow-footed Konerko from third, and Beckham tapped out to end the inning.
In the sixth, Alexei Ramirez led off with a single. Then, with one out, Konerko hit a tailor-made double play ball to Tsuyoshi Nishioka's left.
The ball caromed off of Nishioka's glove, Alexi Casilla couldn't pick it up and runners ended up at the corners when Pierzynski hit into a fielder's choice. But Alex Rios flew out to center to end the threat.
Blackburn wiggled out of one more two-on jam in the eighth, battling back from two-out singles by Carlos Quentin and Konerko to get Pierzynski on an inning-ending flyout to center.
Asked if it was 50-50 whether Blackburn could pitch the ninth, Gardenhire said, "It was zero-100, because he said he couldn't go back out there. He said he was done, he was tired, and all we ask is our pitchers to be honest with us. So, he said he was running out of gas and that's good enough for us."
7: Consecutive wins for the Twins against the White Sox.
2: Impressive stops by Nishioka in addition to the error in his Target Field debut. He made a diving stop in the second inning and an incredible pickup in the eighth, both to his right. Both runners were safe, though. "You saw some arm strength and accuracy," Gardenhire said. "The play that he made deep in the hole out there was unbelievable, right on the nose. So, (he's) pretty athletic."
1: Hit for Nishioka, who reached on a chopper in the eighth inning that Beckham mishandled at second base.
427: Estimated distance (in feet) of Cuddyer's second-inning homer.
5: Home runs in the past 12 games by Cuddyer, who entered the month with four.
9: Days between saves for Capps, who last closed out a win on June 6 at Cleveland and now has nine this season.
• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow) will begin a rehabilitation stint later this week at Triple-A Rochester.
• Gardenhire said he has "no idea" when CF Denard Span (whiplash/concussion), RF Jason Kubel (foot) or DH Jim Thome (back/quadriceps) might return. "We're trying to stay as close to day-by-day as we can," Gardenhire said.
• Capps (sore right wrist) is "fine," Gardenhire said. He says he feels good. His wrist, he's had plenty of time to heal."
"You need a ride?"
-- LHP Chuck James to OF Brian Dinkelman after both were sent to Triple-A Rochester after the game
The Twins open a stretch of 15 consecutive interleague games in a row on Friday, when they start a three-game series against the San Diego Padres at Target Field.
At 30-40, the Padres are sitting in last place in the National League West and are losers of two straight heading into the series. Despite losing seven of their last ten, the Padres are 16-14 on the road this season -- including winning eight of their last 13 away from Petco Park.
The Twins will start left-hander Brian Duensing (3-6, 4.98 ERA), who is coming off his shortest start of the season last Friday. He was relieved after just two innings in which he surrendered seven runs (three earned) on seven hits and one walk in a 9-3 loss to the Rangers.
San Diego will counter with left-hander Clayton Richard (2-8, 4.06 ERA), who is 0-4 in his last five starts, though he has allowed only six earned runs and struck out 10. On Saturday, Richard gave up two runs in the first inning and then allowed only two hits over the next six innings in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals. Richard last started against the Twins on July 29, 2008, when he was with the White Sox. He allowed seven hits and five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings of work and took the loss in a 6-5 game.
• Saturday: vs. San Diego, 6:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (4-4, 3.55) vs. RHP Tim Stauffer (2-4, 3.28).
• Sunday: vs. San Diego, 1:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (4-6, 4.67) vs. RHP Dustin Moseley (2-6, 3.16).
• Monday: Off.
Dan Tracy contributed.