Blackburn loses tight pitchers' duel

Blackburn loses tight pitchers' duel

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins' biggest question mark heading into the 2008 season was their young starting pitching.

Having made many additions to the offense this winter, the Twins felt they could overcome any potential problems with the rotation by scoring their share of runs.

But when their young pitching stepped up and delivered on Wednesday night, it was the offense that did not materialize.

Angels left-hander Joe Saunders limited the Twins to just four hits over his eight innings as the Twins lost their second straight contest to the Angels, 1-0, at the Metrodome.

An inability to manufacture runs early on in the season has hindered the Twins. In their first three games, the Twins have scored a total of four runs.

"It's frustrating in there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his team's clubhouse. "We want to hit. We know we can hit. We've got a lot of young hitters and a lot of good things are going to happen for this team. It's been three games, but we've got some guys that once they get swinging, we'll score some runs."

The poor offensive performance Wednesday forced the Twins to give away a very strong outing from rookie right-hander Nick Blackburn in his first career start. Blackburn (0-1) gave up just one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six, while issuing just one walk in his outing.

Blackburn looked very comfortable facing a difficult Angels lineup. He struck out Vladimir Guerrero twice and got the Angels' Nos. 3-6 hitters to go just 1-for-12 against him. It was a stark contrast to the type of performances that Blackburn had during his September callup last year, when he went 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in six relief appearances.

"I said this in Spring Training, for me, he's the most improved pitcher on this staff," catcher Mike Redmond said. "Last year he got hit around a bit. He went to winter ball and he's worked really hard on his breaking balls and executing his pitches. It's fun to see him go out and pitch that type of game. ... Unfortunately we couldn't score for him."

For a while it looked like Blackburn might get through his outing unscathed. He kept the game knotted at zero through six innings, until the lone run of the game scored in his final inning. And it came on what was an unfortunate play.

Angels' second baseman Howie Kendrick singled up the middle to lead off the seventh. He advanced to second on a sacrifice by Jeff Mathis and moved to third on an Erick Aybar groundout.

With two outs and facing Chone Figgins, Blackburn threw a curveball in the dirt which appeared to ricochet off the corner of the plate and in the opposite direction of Redmond.

"I thought for sure I was there," Redmond said. "It hit something and totally bounced the opposite way of where I was. That's just unfortunate. Nobody feels worse than me."

The Twins had a chance to rally in each of the final four innings, putting the leadoff hitter on base each time. But the hitters couldn't find a way to get the runner in, hitting into three double plays and being unable to even execute bunts.

That was the case in the ninth, after shortstop Matt Tolbert, in his first Major League start, drew a four-pitch walk off Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez. Carlos Gomez came to the plate with the job of laying down a sacrifice bunt to move Tolbert to second.

But rather than stay steady in his bunt, Gomez appeared to try and drag bunt the ball twice leading to an 0-2 count. With two strikes, he then tried one last time to bunt the ball, but could not -- leaving Tolbert stranded at first with one out.

"[Gardenhire] give me the green light to hit, but I want to bunt," Gomez said of the situation. "I know I can bunt. That's why I say to myself, 'you can bunt with two strikes' and I try. We miss the bunt. It's okay. It happens. If have same situation tomorrow, I try because I know I can do it."

Joe Mauer then pinch-hit for Brendan Harris with Tolbert still on first and grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game. An ending that seemed to symbolize how the entire game unfolded.

"A frustrating game, because you try to figure out ways to win those games," Gardenhire said. "That's something we'll hopefully learn from down the road and we'll get better at as we go along here."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.