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Updated: May 14th, 2011 8:08pm
Twins Daily: Bullpen disaster ruins Nick Blackburn's solid start

Twins Daily: Bullpen disaster ruins Nick Blackburn's solid start

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS - On a cold and dreary Saturday, the Twins brought even more doom and gloom to the Twin Cities. An impressive start by Nick Blackburn went to waste as the bullpen fell apart against the Toronto Blue Jays in extra innings, allowing six runs in the eleventh to send the Twins to a 9-3 defeat -- their seventh loss in a row.

The skinny

The losses keep piling up in an already nightmarish 2011 season. Holding a 3-2 lead entering the eighth inning, the Twins once again failed to close out down the stretch.

Blackburn put together his best start of the season, striking out a career-high eight batters and surrendering only three runs, two of which were earned, in 7 2/3 innings. One of his only blemishes came in the eighth inning when Corey Patterson's triple scored Yunel Escobar, proving to be the run that would send the game into extras.

The Twins' bullpen appeared to be under control as the innings rolled on, but disaster struck in the eleventh. Glen Perkins, Jim Hoey and Jose Mijares combined for three hits, five walks and six runs, all while not recording an out.

"We had a lead. That's the big problem here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The bottom line is we had a lead."

Twins' batters scattered 13 hits, but did not produce when it counted, managing one hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

With division leader Cleveland's match-up against Seattle postponed, the Twins are now an even 12 games out of first. The loss also marked the fourth time in six games the Twins' have lost by nine runs or more.

Turning point

Following a solid tenth inning, Perkins stayed in to face the Blue Jays in the eleventh, with the score knotted at three apiece. But a quick first-pitch single by Corey Patterson triggered Gardenhire to bring in Jim Hoey from the bullpen to face Toronto's slugger Jose Bautista.

Hoey drew the count to 1-1, but left a fastball up in the zone on his third pitch, which Bautista clobbered to right for an opposite-field two-run home run.

"I knew it was a little bit up," Hoey said. "I tried to get it a little bit further down, but it just got up and he got under it."

From there, the Blue Jays' onslaught was on. Hoey went on to walk the next two batters, before Mijares came in for relief. Mijares could do nothing to stop the game from slipping away, giving up a two-run bases-clearing double to the next batter and eventually allowing two more runs of his own to score.

Numbers game

25: Number of times the Twins have scored three runs or less this season.

2: Walks by Blackburn, one of which was intentional, were the fewest free passes given up by a Twins' starter in five games.

4: Of Michael Cuddyer's six RBI's this season have come off home runs. His solo shot in the sixth inning tied him with Jason Kubel for the team lead in homers.

13: At-bats it took catcher Rene Rivera get his first hit in Twins' uniform, lining a single into center in the sixth.

4: Strikeouts for Delmon Young in his eight at-bats since returning to the line-up on Friday.

Overheard

"It's very disappointing for myself and the starting pitcher. He (Blackburn) deserved better than that. I take that upon myself. I had a chance to make a move and I didn't."

-- Gardenhire, talking about his decision to let Blackburn face Patterson in the eighth with a left-hander ready to go in the bullpen.

"I'm pissed in a way. We're supposed to go out there and win. That's all that matters. That's all that matters now and that's all that ever mattered."

-- Hoey on the recent struggles of the bullpen, which has surrendered 17 earned runs in four games.

Health report

• DH Jim Thome (oblique/back) spoke with Gardenhire Saturday after his early-morning on-field batting practice session in Florida. Thome said he "felt good" and had made it through the session relatively pain-free. With Sunday an off-day for the Twins' rookie leaguers, there is a chance Thome will play in a couple of extended spring training games starting Monday or Tuesday.

• C Joe Mauer (weakness/soreness) told Gardenhire he was feeling better, but the team is not close to setting a timetable for his return.

"I honestly can't tell you, until he gets to Florida and we see where he's at baseball-wise," Gardenhire said. "There's a lot that still needs to happen; catching, squatting, doing all those kinds of drills... I really don't even have a timetable, because we haven't seen him say he's ready to go yet."

• OF Jason Repko (quad) was expected to play in an extended spring training game Saturday.

On deck

The Twins try to stave off the series sweep on Sunday, sending left-hander Brian Duensing (3-3, 3.32) to face Toronto right-hander Brandon Morrow (1-2, 4.71).

Duensing hasn't started since April 30, having been used out of the bullpen twice since then. In his two relief stints, he gave up a combined three earned runs off eight hits in four innings. Duensing is the only Twins' starter yet to give up five or more runs in an appearance.

Morrow, who is in his second year with the Blue Jays, will be starting only his fifth game this season. He allowed just five hits in his last start against Detroit, but the Tigers rocked him for five runs in 3.1 innings.

Coming up

•Monday: @ Seattle, 9:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (2-4, 6.64) vs. RHP Felix Hernandez (4-3, 3.36)

•Tuesday: @ Seattle, 9:10 p.m. RHP Scott Baker (2-2, 3.71) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (2-2, 3.86)

•Wednesday: @ Oakland, 9:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (2-4, 5.89) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (1-4, 3.34)

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