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Mariners 7, Twins 1: Blackburn Shelled

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Nick Blackburn is usually going to give up a lot of base runners, evidenced by his 1.39 career WHIP. But over the past few seasons, he has managed to get out with minimal damage. Last night against the Seattle Mariners, Blackburn gave up 10 base hits over 3.2 innings, resulting in five Seattle runs, a virtual outburst for the offensively challenged Mariners. With the loss, the Twins (31-21) remain 4.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who lost 3-2 to the Cleveland Indians. The Twins hitters will have a tough road the next two nights, as they are scheduled to face Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.

From the first inning, is was obvious that Blackburn's sinker was flat and sitting around belt high. And the Seattle hitters took advantage. Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins started with line drive singles to put runners on first and third. Brendan Harris failed to make a bare handed play on a swinging bunt by Franklin Gutierrez and it was 1-0 Mariners. But Blackburn ended the threat by inducing a Mike Sweeney double play and fly out by Jose Lopez. In other words, a pretty typical inning for Blackburn, three base hits but only one run. After scoreless second and third innings that saw a number of sharp ground balls, the wheels fell off for Blackburn in the fourth. Perhaps for the first time in his career, Mike Sweeney beat out an infield grounder in the hole that J.J. Hardy threw up the line to Morneau at first. Jose Lopez followed with a home run to left field, 3-1 Mariners. After that point, Seattle took a late batting practice: Out (FB), Single (GB), Single (LD), Out (Pop Fly), Single (GB), Double (LD) and it was 5-1 Seattle. 

In the meantime, Jason Vargas showed why he's one of the bigger surprises for the Mariners pitching staff this season. In yesterday's game preview I noted that Vargas has a very low BABIP (.238) and could expect a regression at some point. I also noted Vargas' very low line drive rate (12.5%), which results in his low BABIP. Last night, Vargas gave up a few line drives, but the "at'em ball" was working. In the first inning, after a J.J. Hardy walk, Joe Mauer nailed a hanging change deep to right field. Bert yelled "See Ya!", and the baseball gods were unhappy, as the ball died at the fence. Fortunately, the ball actually hit the yellow foul line on the right field wall, and Mauer ended up with a double. Second and third, one out. Justin Morneau crushed a line drive right at Seattle first baseman Casey Kotchman, two outs. Then Michael Cuddyer weakly grounded out to short to end the inning. And that would be the only real threat the Twins offense would mount against Vargas, who ended up going 7 innings giving up 6 hits with 3 walks and 2 strikeouts. 

Studs, duds and other notes after the jump.

Studs

  • Alex Burnett: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO. Burnett kept the Twins in the game by getting out of the fourth inning and following up with two more scoreless innings.
  • J.J. Hardy: 1-3, BB. Contributed +0.24 runs offensively, +0.37 at the plate, -0.15 on the base paths (didn't score on Mauer's double in the first). This was the largest contribution by a Twins hitter last night, as Mauer (+0.22) and Nick Punto (+0.05) were the only other hitters in positive territory.
  • Brian Duensing: 1 IP, H, SO. The invisible reliever strikes again.

Duds

  • Nick Blackburn: 3.2 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, HR. Somehow Blackburn didn't walk or strike out a single batter. But he was hit hard, breaking his five game winning streak.
  • Ron Mahay: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO. Inching ever closer to being designated for assignment.
  • Denard Span: 0-4. Contributed -1.16 runs at the plate. Two pop flies to the left side of the infield and one to the left fielder in foul territory. Span was tied up in knots by Vargas.
  • Brendan Harris: 0-4. Contributed -0.93 runs at the plate. Now batting .163 with a 478 OPS. He's completely lost out there. But at least he didn't strike out.
  • Michael Cuddyer: 1-4. Contributed -0.84 runs at the plate. But no double plays!
  • Justin Morneau: 1-4, HR, SO. Contributed -0.52 runs at the plate. While he crushed a home run to right field for the Twins' only run, his lineout with runners on second and third (-0.76 runs) in the first and double play (-0.59 runs) in the fifth more than canceled out the homer.

Notes

"Everything was just a little flat today," Blackburn said. "I think my mechanics were a little out of line and it was one of those things where I couldn't make the adjustment no matter how hard I tried. Obviously, you're going to have days like that and hopefully that's the end of it."

  • Joe C notes that Orlando Hudson and Matt Tolbert have joined the team in Seattle, and that Hudson believes his wrist "should be better in a few days". 
  • Nick Punto drew four pitch walks in his first two plate appearances. Jason Vargas could not have been happy.