Oustanding starts by Nick Blackburn and Doug Fister today, but Blackburn gets the win. And he deserves it.
I know, I know. It was the Mariners. But today, Blackburn took another step toward a full-time job in the Minnesota starting rotation by coming one out short of a complete game shutout in Seattle. He was on form, ridiculously on form, allowing just two hits and a pair of walks. It was that last walk that did it, a very close call on a 3-2 pitch to Chone Figgins that brought the masher Russell Branyan to the dish.
It doesn't take anything away from what Nick was able to achieve this afternoon. The last base runner he'd allowed was Ryan Langerhans, with a one-out walk in the second inning. Between Langerhans and Figgins, Blackburn retired 21 straight. His off-speed stuff was on fire as he got outs on the changeup with ease, and struck out six Mariners. I don't remember the last time I saw Blackburn pitch this well.
In that very, very dangerous plate appearance at the end of the game, Ron Gardenhire made the right move: he went to Brian Fuentes. Like when he pulled Kevin Slowey after six no-hit innings, you play to win the game and Gardy made his decision based on that mantra. Blackburn still had gas in the tank, but this is the exact situation for which you claimed Fuentes.
Branyan is a .198/.244/.370 hitter versus southpaws this year, as opposed to a .252/.352/.522 smasher versus righties. Fuentes, of course, has his (by now well-publicized) splits as well: .132/.209/.158 against left-handed hitters.
Changeup-fastball-slider-fastball, sit down. Four pitches and Fuentes ended the game, and big Russell Branyan might as well have been swinging with an imaginary bat because he wasn't going to hit a damn thing. He looked lost, and was probably lucky to lay off that outside slider.
With that, the Twins are back to 20 games over .500 and continue to keep the pressure on the White Sox, who will be dealing with the Yankees later today. Congratulations to Nick Blackburn, who spun one hell of a beautiful game, and a consolation high-five to Fister who more than did his job today. Notes, studs and duds after the jump.
- The Twins scored their lone run in the top of the third. J.J. Hardy's double left it second and third with nobody out. Denard Span drove a hard liner into the right-center field gap, Franklin Gutierrez dove, and the ball bounced off the heel of his glove. The runners had to wait to see the result of the play, and consequently only Danny Valencia had time to score.
- Speaking of Valencia, he made a handful of nice plays at third base today. A stab on a hard liner, and a couple of very good, hard throws helped him pick up Blackburn. Making plays on hard outs like he made today are the kinds of plays that seperate the cream from the crop. Great game.
- Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome both had to leave the game. Hudson with a sprained ankle, and is day-to-day. Thome with tightness in his back, and is likely the same. Hopefully both of these issues can be cleared up by a day off tomorrow.
- Brandon League is really good. Like, ridiculously good. Nasty, nasty stuff.
Nick Blackburn: 8.2 IP, 2 H, 6 K, 2 BB, 0 R, .695 WPA
Doug Fister: 7 IP, 6 H, 6 K, 2 BB, 1 R, .208 WPA
Brian Fuentes: 0.1 IP, K, .089 WPA, 3.29 pLI
Brandon League: 1 IP, 2 K, .032 WPA
Danny Valencia: 1-for-3, R, -.020 WPA (no accounting for defense here?)
Franklin Gutierrez: A diving catch wouldn't have stopped the runner from scoring, but you still have to make that grab. He's lucky that inning didn't steamroll.