When Nick Blackburn returned to the Minnesota Twins’ rotation after a brief trip to the minor leagues, it appeared as if he had figured something out. Blackburn held the Royals to just one run in 6 2/3 innings that day in a Twins victory.
One start later, however, Blackburn regressed to the way he had been pitching when he was sent down to Triple-A Rochester. In Wednesday’s series finale against the Chicago White Sox, Blackburn allowed eight runs on 10 hits — both season highs — in 4 1/3 innings of work as Minnesota lost 8-2.
Blackburn was spotted an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, but the right-hander gave up two runs each in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings before his early exit. That included two home runs, bringing Chicago’s home run total to eight in the three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field. It marked the fifth time in 15 starts that Blackburn has allowed multiple homers, and the second time in his last three outings.
“Blackie got balls up. You could see that,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Wednesday’s loss. “… These guys are swinging the bats, and he was up.”
Chicago jumped on Blackburn in the second inning after a one-out walk to Alex Rios and a double by Alexei Ramirez put two runners in scoring position. Dayan Viciedo then singled to center, driving in both runners for a 2-1 White Sox lead.
After two more runs in the third inning, Blackburn served up the first of his two homers in the fourth. Viciedo took Blackburn deep to center field for a two-run shot, his 16th of the season. It capped a three-hit, four-RBI day for Viciedo.
Blackburn faced just three batters in the bottom of the fifth inning, and two of them scored. After a leadoff double by Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko grounded out to second base — one of just three groundouts for the sinkerballer Blackburn. Then, on the first pitch from Blackburn, Rios went deep to left field for a two-run shot that put the White Sox up 8-2.
“You’re trying to get a ground ball there with the infield in, and the ball’s up and goes in the seats,” Gardenhire said.
That homer ended Blackburn’s day and raised his ERA on the season to 7.99 and his WHIP to 1.75. It also capped a three-game sweep for the White Sox, who outscored Minnesota 26-10 in the series to move back into first place in the American League Central.
The Twins, meanwhile, continue to sit in last place in the division at 39-59, thanks to Blackburn’s latest rough start.
“Just a terrible series by us, but a great series for the other team,” Gardenhire said. “They whacked it and they pounded us, scored a lot of runs and we got dominated here.”