Updated: May 23rd, 2011 11:08pm
Twins Daily: Plouffe shoulders blame as bullpen blows another one

Twins Daily: Plouffe shoulders blame as bullpen blows another one

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome's huge night at the plate was overshadowed by passive defense and yet another bullpen meltdown, as the Minnesota Twins lost 8-7 to the Seattle Mariners in 10 innings on Monday night at Target Field.

The skinny

The Twins simply do not currently have any trustworthy reliever pitchers.

After falling behind 4-1 in the first three innings, the Twins battled back with two timely home runs by Thome and RBI singles by Denard Span and Delmon Young to take a 7-4 lead.

Carl Pavano settled down to retire the final eight batters he faced after allowing four earned runs on nine hits and two walks early on.

But it was Joe Nathan and Matt Capps who allowed the Mariners to crawl back in and eventually tie things in the eighth and ninth innings.

Anthony Swarzak then loaded the bases in the 10th inning and gave up the eventual game-winning sacrifice fly to former Twin Luis Rodriguez.

"A tough loss," said manager Ron Gardenhire. "Kind of overshadowed a great day by Jim Thome -- a nice comeback by him."

The loss overshadowed Thome's two-homer performance in his first game back from the disabled list.

Turning point

Nathan came in to protect a 7-4 lead in the top of the eighth and promptly disposed of Carlos Peguero with a swinging strikeout.

That's when things went downhill, and Trevor Plouffe's passive defense certainly didn't help.

Brendan Ryan started the trouble with a single to right field and advanced to second base on a wild pitch.

Nathan appeared to redeem himself by inducing a weak groundball to Trevor Plouffe, but the shortstop bobbled briefly before throwing, allowing batter Jack Wilson to reach safely.

"He's got to make that play," Gardenhire said. "You have to make that play."

Instead of having a runner on third with two outs and a three-run lead, the Mariners had runners on the corners with one out. Pinch hitter Adam Kennedy delivered an RBI single to cut the lead to 7-5, prompting  Gardenhire to summon closer Matt Capps.

"I was passive on it," said Plouffe, who has struggled mightily in the field since his call-up earlier this month. "When you're passive in the infield, bad things happen. He was a little quicker than I had thought, and it's one of those things where you've just got to be aggressive."

That wasn't Plouffe's only mistake.

Ichiro followed with a looping fly ball behind second base. Instead of charging and catching the ball on the fly, Plouffe let it bounce and flipped to Alexi Casilla for the force out, which allowed another run to score.

"Ichiro was running, so obviously I wasn't going to get two on that," Plouffe said. "I saw Alexi out of the corner of my eye, and I got passive on it. That's just something you can't do."

Gardenhire added, "I don't really know the thinking there. I know the ball's got to be caught in the air. Those are two plays that have to be made. That cost us a lot. It cost us our bullpen, it cost us the ballgame. And those plays have to be made, that's all I can say."

The Mariners later tied it in the ninth and won it in the 10th.

"It's terrible," Plouffe said. "It's never good to lose, especially on a night like tonight. It's great to see Jim back in the lineup, and obviously he's going to help us out a lot. Definitely with all the things that have been happening with Harmon (Killebrew) and his passing, it's been tough on the team, but I don't know. Tonight was definitely tough. And I take a lot of the blame for that, absolutely."

Numbers game

1: Career home runs for Span at Target Field after his leadoff blast in the first inning. It was his fourth career leadoff home run, with the last one coming on June 25 last season against the Mets at Citi Field.

593: Career home runs for Thome.

7.63: Nathan's ERA after allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits and an error in only 1/3 innings.

10: Earned runs allowed by Capps in his four blown saves this season (4 2/3 innings)

Health report

• Young left early for precautionary reasons with a left leg contusion after fouling a ball off his shin in the seventh inning.

• Cuddyer left early with right hip tightness. He pulled up lame while reaching on an infield single in the seventh, and his status remains day-to-day. "For me, it's either you can play or you can't," Cuddyer said. "There's a fine line, a black and white line in between that. Either you can or you can't. If I can, I'll be out there. And if I can't, I can't."

• C Joe Mauer (weakness/soreness) still isn't ready to DH in an extended spring training game, "but he's very close," head athletic trainer McWane said. "They're evaluating daily, so he's going to come in and they're going to let us know. But we don't have a date set yet." Mauer did suffer through some shoulder soreness in Florida, but he was back to throwing from 120 feet on Monday, "and they said he did well. His strength was good." Regarding the shoulder soreness, McWane said Mauer "was throwing the ball well up here (in Minneapolis). He went down to Florida and after his first workout down there his shoulder was a little sore. So they backed him off a little bit."

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdomen) had an MRI come back negative, which means he's cleared to pitch, but the right-hander will no longer be pitching out of the bullpen.

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka is "doing just about everything he can on the field," according to McWane. "His agility drills are going great, and he's very close to playing in a game." The team is hopeful Nishioka will begin playing in extended spring games by the end of the week, but he'll need at least a week's worth of at-bats -- probably more -- before being activated from the disabled list.

On deck

Searching for his fifth straight solid start, right-hander Nick Blackburn (3-4, 3.40) battles Mariners right-hander Doug Fister (2-4, 2.93) as the series continues on Tuesday night (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN).

Since allowing five earned runs in three straight starts to end April, Blackburn has posted a 1.63 ERA with 15 strikeouts, 11 walks and only two home runs allowed in four May starts (27 2/3 innings). Over that stretch Blackburn has also induced 55% groundballs, including 15 grounders on 23 batted balls in his last outing against the A's.

Fister is coming off perhaps his two best starts of the season -- back-to-back eight-inning outings against the Indians and Angels where he allowed a total of only three earned runs, 10 hits and three walks while striking out eight.

Coming up

• Wednesday: vs. Seattle, 12:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (2-4, 4.98) vs. LHP Erik Bedard (2-4, 3.94).
• Thursday: Off.
• Friday: vs. Angels, 7:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (2-3, 4.12) vs. RHP Tyler Chatwood (3-2, 4.06).

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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