Bats, defense let Nick Blackburn down as winless Twins fall to Angels
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Four games into the season and the Minnesota Twins' offense continues to sleep -- this time in a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in Monday's home opener at Target Field.
Josh Willingham's solo home run in the fourth inning inflicted the only real damage off left-hander C.J. Wilson, who made his Angels debut after signing a five-year, $77.5 million contract this offseason.
The Twins drew four walks off Wilson but tallied only three hits.
Nick Blackburn's pitching line -- five earned runs in six innings -- was not indicative of the way he pitched. After a shaky two-run first inning, Blackburn picked up where he left off in Fort Myers, at one point retiring 15 straight batters from the first through sixth innings.
"I feel as good about today as I did any of my spring outings," Blackburn said. "It started off I wasn't throwing my breaking ball, my changeup for strikes, but we ended up getting there. It was reassuring to know that the adjustments can come in a big game. That's a good lineup over there."
In the top of the seventh, following a missed double-play opportunity by Jamey Carroll, Angels catcher Chris Iannetta drove a two-RBI double to the gap in left-center off Blackburn to plate two more.
Shortstop Erick Aybar's squeeze bunt off Glen Perkins drove home the Angels' fifth run two batters later.
"It was a couple well-placed flares and a couple well-placed groundballs," Blackburn said. "There's not a whole lot you can change about that."
The Twins threatened in the bottom of the third with two outs when Carroll walked and Joe Mauer singled, but Justin Morneau tapped out to end the inning.
They rallied again with nobody out in the ninth when Morneau was hit by a pitch and Willingham singled, but Ryan Doumit lined into a double play to stiffle the threat.
"We're not scoring right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've got to put some more runs on the board for our pitchers. Blacky gave us a hell of an effort."
Blackburn walked Bobby Abreu to start the top of the seventh inning, but he followed by inducing what appeared to be double-play groundball up the middle off the bat of Alberto Callaspo.
Upon sprawling to his left, shortstop Carroll had the ball kick off his glove into shallow center field allowing both runners to reach safely.
The next batter, Iannetta, hit a fly ball to the gap in left center that dropped between Willingham and Denard Span for a two-RBI double, putting the Angels up 4-1.
Was it a play Carroll should have made?
"Absolutely," he said.
"I thought I was going to have to obviously dive a little bit, and it ended up coming back to me -- lefty, kind of sliced it back into me. It hit right off of my glove. I should have made it. It ended up being a big play. I think we could have ended up getting a double play, and it ended up Iannetta doubles in the next at-bats and gets those two runs, and that's big. ... Obviously one I felt I should have made."
Instead of coming away with only two runs on his scorecard, Blackburn left with five.
"As frustrating as that is I still got a groundball and can't do anything about it," Blackburn said. "The guy hit it right where he needed to hit it and there's nothing I can do about it after I release the ball so maybe next time it will be at him and we can get that double play and it's a different situation."
Twins honor 2002 division champs
Ten years after the 2002 Twins helped to revive the franchise by winning the American League Central title, the organization honored members of that team before Monday's opener.
Among those recognized was Angels right fielder Torii Hunter. Hunter, who left the Twins as a free agent after the 2007 season, was able to catch up with several former teammates, including Eddie Guardado, Jacque Jones, LaTroy Hawkins, Brad Radke and Joe Mays, at a breakfast Monday morning in downtown Minneapolis.
That 2002 season marked Ron Gardenhire's first as the Twins' manager and came after a winter in which the franchise had been offered up as a candidate for contraction. The Twins hadn't won a division title since 1991 and in 2001 had finished above .500 for the first time since 1992.
The Twins went 94-67, beat Oakland in the Divisional round of the playoffs and then lost to the Angels in the American League Championship Series.
Asked where that season ranks in his career, Hunter said: "Right now, number one. The 2002 season was number one for me. All those guys on the team were like family. We came up together, we knew each other, we knew what we could and couldn't do, on and off the field. So, we were like brothers. We had a lot of fun. ... Ten years ago. Can you believe that? I'm only 28, it's crazy."
Hunter is actually 36 and has been a regular in the big leagues since 1999.
Gardenhire also has fond memories of the year.
"With all the stuff that went on during (that) winter, from contraction to all those things," Gardenhire said, "being interviewed for a manager's job was pretty special, and being told by Terry that, 'If we have a team we're going to let you manage it,' was pretty special.
"But the big 'if' was there. If we have a team. But we all believed we would. It was pretty neat once we got going and got everybody to spring training. It was a good group of guys that I had been around for a while as a coach and it was a special group. They didn't need any coaxing. They came to play, they came to play hard and that's what those guys did. It was a special group. We had a lot of fun."
2: Errors on one play by the Twins in the top of the sixth inning, when a hard groundball by Morales bounced off Joe Mauer over to Alexi Casilla, who fired wide of first base. This play snapped Blackburn's streak of 15 straight batters retired.
77%: The contact rate of Angels hitters against Blackburn (9 whiffs in 40 swings), which is right in line with the 75% rate he induced during spring training. It's way too early to make any judgements, but from 2007 to 2011 hitters made contact on 89% of swings against Blackburn. He credited his spring success to moving toward the middle of the rubber and creating a higher release point. "He deserved a better fate than what he got today," catcher Doumit said. "That was about as -- and I caught him a couple of times in spring training - that was about as good as I've seen his stuff. If he keeps pitching like that and he brings that type of stuff every fifth day than the other team is going to have a tough time. But my hats off to him, he went out there and he competed. He deserved better than that."
20: Hits for the Twins through four games (5 per game).
0: Hits this season for Carroll. Carroll has drawn three walks.
1: Runs scored by the Twins this season in innings 1-7.
• Due to food poisoning, right-hander Liam Hendriks stayed an extra day in Baltimore before flying home on Monday. It's likely Anthony Swarzak will make another start while Hendriks recovers. Hendriks said he wasn't sure which food item was the culprit, but he added that he didn't lose much weight, if any. He'll be evaluated as the week goes on as the Twins determine when to slot him back into the starting rotation.
• RHP Scott Baker will seek a second opinion this week from Dr. David Altcheck on his sore right elbow. An MRI last week showed no significant damage, but Baker still doesn't feel right when he pitches.
Tuesday: Off day
Wednesday: vs. Angels, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (0-1, 5.14) vs. RHP Jared Weaver (1-0, 0.00).
Thursday: vs. Angels, 12:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (0-1, 11.25) vs. RHP Dan Haren (0-1, 8.44).
Judd Zulgad contributed to this report