Nick Blackburn


After ending the first half of the season with a 9-3 record, getting a rejuvenated Joe Nathan as the team’s closer, and looking forward to Delmon Young and Jason Kubel to make a return, it was easy for Minnesota Twins fans to be positive after the All-Star Break. And by starting the second half with 12 straight games at home and against division rivals, it was an especially appealing way to continue the surge towards first place. But instead of gaining ground, the team went 5-6 and actually lost some ground on the Detroit Tigers. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, our relievers have actually been acceptable, but some of the spark that the team once had seems to have vanished.

Before yesterday’s game, in which he went 0-for-3 with a walk, leadoff man Ben Revere had only reached base three times in his last 28 at-bats. He currently sports a .249 batting average, which truthfully could be very acceptable for a CF that plays good defense and can steal some bases, except…to go along with that he has an on-base percentage of just .287. I do believe that he gets quite a bit of slack for being a rookie, and can only imagine that his plate discipline and ability to get on base will improve with more experience. With his current pace, he’d draw between 20-25 walks in a full season (close to Delmon’s numbers). And that is not acceptable for a leadoff hitter. I still think Denard Span is our leadoff hitter upon his return, and could see Revere going down to the 9-hole because that keeps the speed at top and bottom of the lineup, like Gardy likes, but also allows him to generally be in less-important situations and can give him some time to keep improving. Speaking of the 9-hole…

 

Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a career year last season in Japan, but I was still very excited for his arrival. Playing in just 6 games before the middle of June due to a broken leg, he didn’t get the chance to start out slow like a lot of Twins players typically do each season. When he came back from injury is when the Twins started winning more games and his production both on offense and defense became vital, especially with his infield counterpart Alexi Casilla tearing it up. Instead, Nishioka has been a major disappointment, both offensively and defensively. Some have questioned whether he should even be playing shortstop, opting for the more casual second base instead. Nishi is hitting a respectable .270 in the month of July, but like Revere has struggles getting on base with his .293 OBP for the season. But the alarming statistic is that after yesterday’s hitless performance, Tsuyoshi now has struck out 31 times on the year while amassing just 30 hits. This is a very alarming number that suggests Nishi hasn’t been able to get solid reads on MLB pitchers yet. But the question becomes, How long will Gardy stick with him? Earlier indications pointed to a very long leash, but with Trevor Plouffe performing superbly in AAA and getting the call up, does he deserve a chance to start again? His possible talent goes mostly wasted by sitting on the bench. It’s a tough situation for Twins fans to deal with, as well. He hasn’t been very solid defensively like he was supposed to be. I understand that Ichiro and Nishi are very different players, but the whole “coming to play MLB from Japan transitional phase” thing can’t apply to our 2B. Ichiro had a .350 batting average in his first year stateside, and although that was his average while playing in Japan, Nishioka’s past certainly indicates that he would be a better hitter than he has been thus far.

 

One of the reasons it was important to get off to a good start in the second half, other than the obvious AL Central matchups, is that now they head west for a 10-game road trip in which they take on the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels. Although the Twins have beaten the Rangers 3 out of 4 times this season, Texas sports a 14-3 record dating back to before the All-Star Break and have some absolute mashers for hitters. The Angels have a fantastic pitching staff that I feel could cause some big issues for our lineup, and Oakland is…well, Oakland.

 

At any rate, I predict a split in the series against Texas. I think Nick Blackburn will give us a good performance tonight and that Brian Duensing will rebound and get a W on Wednesday night. Carl Pavano could be outpitched by All Star C.J. Wilson and Scott Baker may struggle pitching outside of Target Field. Only time will tell.

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It was a game of stumbles this evening, as the Twins fell to the Royals 2-1. Things were slow going, if you’re a fan of high-scoring games, or they were perfect, if you’re an old-fashioned baseball fan, for the first three and a half innings. Then the flashiness of Ben Revere came to the plate and knocked the team’s first hit, a single. After a few pitches to Alexi Casilla, Revere successfully stole second. Casilla grounded out but advanced Revere to third in the process. With Joe Mauer at the plate, the Royals’ pitcher bounced a pitch in the dirt that ricocheted off the catcher’s gear and allowed Revere an easy chance to score the first run of the game. Revere has been a fantastic call-up, providing a much-needed spark at the top of the lineup. Revere owned both of the Twins’ hits, in fact, until bottom of the 7th inning. Revere’s second hit was a line-drive into the right field corner and Ben rocketed around the bases, eventually ending up on third base for a triple. The best part, though, is that Revere did a full somersault halfway between second and third base, but he got up immediately and kept trucking to slide into third.

If anyone saw Gardy’s postgame press conference, you would have seen him talk about how the loss isn’t placed on Matt Capps, and the offense was more to blame. In Capps’ defense, the team mustered a whopping three hits before the 9th inning came around. The offense also had opportunities in the 9th, with a runner on third base and only one out, but they failed to get pinch-runner Matt Tolbert home. I guess technically Tolbert has himself to blame for not scoring, since he ran home on contact from a half-bunt by Luke Hughes and got thrown out by a distance most likely similar to his height. Regardless of all that, though, the fact of the matter remains: the team had a lead in the 9th inning and failed to come away with a win. The inning tipped to the negative side of the scale right from the start, when Capps walked the leadoff batter on four pitches. Capps then recorded two outs (the second one being a very hard-hit linedrive) but surrendered a go-ahead, two-run dinger to fresh big leaguer Eric Hosmer. It’s Capps’ 7th blown save of the season and frankly should not close for this ballclub any more. He can’t be trusted when it matters the most. Whether something may be physically wrong with him (refer to the 2 strikeouts in the last month stat from yesterday’s post) or mentally wrong with him (the fact that he cannot seem to close a game to save his job), he can’t be relied on anymore. Joe Nathan has shown a lot of improvement as of late, and although I know some fans may want to see him close again, I’d prefer to see Glen Perkins get the spot instead. He has been dominant in his newfound role as a reliever and he seems to have accepted that role with a confidence that would work in late-game situations. Listening to 1500 ESPN radio after the game, I got some great information regarding starting pitcher Nick Blackburn. He pitched very well, going 7 innings and only giving up 4 hits. However, in his final inning pitched, it was a 1-2-3 inning in which he threw a measly 6 pitches. It was an interesting move by the manager, because he certainly earned a chance at throwing in the 8th as well. Regardless of how he performed there, it was still almost a certainty that Capps would have pitched the 9th, but it’s an interesting scenario anyway. On to some positives, other than Revere’s good night at the plate:

Danny Valencia had a nice diving stop at third base in the first inning to record the final out of the frame. He is a very solid defender at the hot corner, even with his 7 throwing errors on the year.

Delmon Young continued his good hitting with a solid double to left center as one of his two hits on the night. When he hit the ball, his swing made such good contact that I thought the ball would travel to the outfielders very quickly and Delmon wouldn’t be able to advance, but he trotted into second base without needing to slide. He saw just 8 pitches throughout his 4 at-bats, but I’ve come to accept that Delmon simply will not be patient at the plate. And as fans, we have to deal with it because it does not seem like he will change his approach at this point. I can’t fault him, as long as the approach continues to be successful for him.

Carl Pavano looks to get his 7th win of the year tonight in the 3rd game of 4 against the Royals.

Dennys Reyes and Boof Bonser combined for 2 and 1/3 innings of hitless baseball, needing a total of 23 pitches while both struck out two.

Craig Breslow came into the 9th inning with the game tied 2-2 and gave up a single and a sacrifice bunt. Jesse Crain came in to replace him and promptly walks the first batter he faces. With a pinch-hitter announced, a meeting was held on the mound…but it didn’t work. A double would score the winning run, and thus end the game. Breslow was charged with the run and the loss (his second on the year).

 

Although, the offense was pretty horrible. Only five hits were collected, two of them doubles and the rest singles. Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Nick Punto all had a stolen base.

 

Nick Blackburn again couldn’t finish an inning that he started. On the year, he’s got ten starts where he only recorded one or two outs in his final inning.

 

Don’t be surprised to see Jason Kubel basically limited to pinch-hitting duties in the Oakland series, because all the starters he’d face are lefties and Ron Gardenhire has a fear of putting Kubel in against lefties. Well, maybe it’s his .216 batting average against them this season. As much as I’d like to see Kubel in there, hopefully Randy Ruiz can show that he’s worth something and put up some decent numbers in California.

Some notes from the Mariners series:

  • Minnesota was only able to win one game out of the three they played against one of the worst teams in baseball, and even that game almost got out of hand.
  • Joe Nathan had his fourth blown save of the year, but long-time Twin Eddie Guardado is back with the club. He pitched the 8th inning twice against Seattle, his first outing being spectacular while his second outing left a little to be desired. He nearly gave up the 2-run lead by giving up back-to-back doubles and then a single. If it weren’t for Denard Span‘s game-saving bullet to home plate to nab the runner, the lead would’ve been gone.
  • Glen Perkins picked up his 12th win of the season and is now 12-3 on the year with a 3.96 ERA. I honestly think that both he and Span will get at least one vote for ROY nominations. Span’s impact has been phenomenal, both as a leadoff hitter and a RF. And Perkins, despite his unspectacular ERA and WHIP numbers, continues to keep the Twins in the ballgame and that’s seen by his W-L record.
  • A 4-game series against Oakland, the worst team since the All-Star Break, is next on the schedule. It’s very vital that Minnesota takes at least 3 out of the 4 games. I’m continually amazed at how this team can split a series with the Angels, the team with the second-best record in all of baseball, and then lose two of three to virtually the worst team in baseball.
  • The A’s will be sending four consecutive lefties to the mound against us, while we have Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, and Scott Baker, in that order, trying to give us a win. Game times are (Central) 9:05, 9:05, 8:05, and 3:05. I don’t quite know why they can’t just start right on the hour.

Nick Blackburn allowed a solo homer on the very first pitch of the game, and the A’s never really looked back. Blackburn would also allow a two-run single in the 4th inning, but he still pitched a very good game. He was able to last eight innings, something that’s very welcomed by the bullpen. Four of the six hits he allowed were singles, but he had some control issues in that 4th inning and finished with two walks and two strikeouts, all while throwing 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes. Apparently he “locked in” after giving up the two-run single and retired eleven of the final fifteen batters he faced.

 

Offensively for the Twins, nothing happened until the 8th inning. You could blame it on being unprepared; Oakland’s starter left after just 2 and 2/3 innings pitched, with pain in his right hip. Fresh call-up Kirk Saarloos came in and allowed just three singles and struck out three in 3 and 2/3 innings of relief.

 

The 8th inning provided some excitement, and hope. Denard Span led off the inning with a sharp single, but Nick Punto flew out right after that. Joe Mauer, Minnesota’s hero, hit a ball that ended up bouncing off the left field wall, even though it didn’t look like he had hit it very far. Span scored easily, and Mauer wanted to stretch it into a triple. The left fielder’s throw hit Mauer as he slid into the base and caromed into the Twins dugout, resulting in an advance of one base because the ball went out of play. The final scoring on the play was an RBI triple with a run scored because of an error. Justin Morneau followed with a sharp single of his own, and nearly every armchair manager was screaming for Carlos Gomez to come in and pinch-run. It was simple, really. Gomez replaces Morneau and Mike Lamb would come in to play first base for the 9th inning (and any subsequent innings, if necessary.) Then you have the option of sending Gomez to second, or possibly doing a hit-and-run with the pull-happy Jason Kubel at the plate. The non-move proved costly, as Kubel grounded into a double play to end the threat, and inning.

Not that Delmon Young‘s pathetic 9th inning at-bat helped matters. He swung and missed on the first two fastballs, then made lucky contact to foul off the next two pitches before a feeble half-swing at a slider that was caught in the middle of the left-handed batter’s box. I don’t like to rag on a single player like that, because even the great Mauer or MVP Morneau can have bad at-bats. But Delmon is the one player I can watch and have absolutely no hope that he’ll do anything good with the bat. He has no patience and can’t field very well (as seen by the ball that fell out of his glove and the ball that bounced over his glove last night. He was luckily only charged with one error.) I have faith that he’ll be a key member to our team in the future, I just wish he’d show some signs of improvement.

 

Speaking of improvement, I heard a nice quote about Gomez. When he found out he wasn’t in the starting lineup, he said something to Ron Gardenhire that was along the lines of “that’s o.k. coach, I’ll play whenever and wherever you need me to,” which is a hint to me that he may be maturing just a tad bit.

 

Adam Everett had to leave the game after taking a Nick Punto foul ball to his hand. He has a “deep bruise” and it isn’t known whether or not he’ll be able to play tonight.

 

It’s well-documented that Minnesota’s bullpen has struggled lately. I cringe every time I see Brian Bass warming up near the left field seats. Speak with any person that has seen me cringe and they’ll tell you how I’m convinced Bass should wear a white flag underneath his cap, because his coming into the game is the signal of surrender.

Anyway, Al Reyes was released by the Rays yesterday, and might be an option for the team. He collected 26 saves last year for Tampa Bay and currently has a 4.37 ERA in relief this season. Before you shout “A 4.37 ERA is horrible for a reliever!” in disgust at me, please note that if acquired, Reyes’ ERA would put him as our 5th-best man in the pen; ahead of our supposed setup “ace”, Matt Guerrier, and Gardy’s love child, Mr. Bass. One more rant on Bass: he seriously has no ML talent whatsoever. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but he literally has shown nothing to prove that he belongs with the big boys. At least Boof as had some flashes of dominance.

 

Alexi Casilla was 1-for-3 in a rehab start last night, and he hopes to be back to the team by the end of the month.

 

I am fortunate enough to have a ticket for tonight’s game, and will be attending in my beloved Kubel jersey. Look for me in either section 232 or 233 (I can’t remember), row 11, and either seat 7, 8, or 9. Oh yeah, it’s in the upper deck, because it’s apart of the All You Can Eat Seats promotion…I’ll let you know how that works out.

Glen Perkins, coming off a disastrous start in Seattle and just one day after the birth of his second child, was able to avoid pretty much any trouble against the Yankees last night on his way to his 9th win of the season. He lasted eight innings, allowed just four singles, walked three and struck out four.

Perk almost allowed a run in the 2nd inning when he made an errant pickoff throw to first. That changed the situation to a runner on third with nobody out. Glen calmed down enough to get a short pop fly and then induced one of his TWO double plays to get out of the inning unscathed.

 

 

Adam Everett was the offensive star just a day after blaming himself for the Twins’ loss in KC. Adam had just one hit but it was a homer that came with two outs and a runner on base in the 2nd inning, giving the team an early lead. Everett has just 20 hits as a Twin yet eight of those have gone for extra bases.

 

Joe Mauer added an RBI on a sacrifice fly, scoring Denard Span. Span scored again in the 8th inning when Justin Morneau hit an infield single over the pitcher’s mound. The funny thing is that Span was on 2nd when Justin hit it, but Denard hustled towards third and never stopped because there was no play at any base by the time Derek Jeter got to the ball.

 

Joe Nathan pitched the 9th inning, even though it wasn’t a save opportunity, and needed 17 pitches to strike out the side. It’s the 5th time this year that he has come into the 9th inning and struck out the side.

 

 

The White Sox lost 5-1 to the Red Sox, giving the Twins a slim .5 game lead in the AL Central standings.

 

Nick Blackburn (9-6, 3.60) will try to outduel ace Mike Mussina (15-7, 3.27) tonight and hopefully secure a series win.

                                                    Denard Span catch

That’s one of the coolest pictures I’ve seen as it perfectly shows an in-focus Denard Span making a home run-robbing catch while the Seattle runner is chugging along in the foreground, blurred out. Had he not made the catch, Seattle would have taken a 5-4 lead and who knows how momentum would’ve played out. The Twins might’ve been deflated and not scored three more runs that they actually did.

Span also had a bases-clearing triple, his 4th on the year, and stole his 6th base of the season.

 

Brendan Harris had a solid afternoon, collecting two hits (his 22nd and 23rd doubles of the year), two RBI, and two runs scored.

 

Nick Blackburn was able to give the twins a quality start, but nothing more because he threw 101 pitches in his six innings of work. He allowed nine hits and three runs while both walking and striking out a batter. His record improves to 9-6 on the year. Finally though the bullpen could hold the lead. It helped having Dennys Reyes back, and Jesse Crain was fresh enough for 1 and 1/3 innings of hitless ball. Joe Nathan pitched the 9th even though it wasn’t a save situation.

 

There is no game today and I’m also going away for the weekend, to a place that has no viable option for me to blog on. Have a great weekend everyone!

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