Twins starter Blackburn continues to struggle

MINNEAPOLIS — Nick Blackburn was at a loss for words Wednesday when asked what more he can do to turn things around, shortly after he and the Minnesota Twins fell, 12-5, to the Chicago White Sox.

The Twins are seemingly out of options, too, meaning they have no choice but to keep Blackburn in the rotation. Wednesday’s outing was his worst this month, as the right-hander allowed six hits and nine runs in just five innings of work. While he had a record of 3-0 in June prior to Wednesday, he has now thrown more than five innings just once in five starts this month.

The last time Blackburn pitched at least seven innings? You have to go back to July 15 of last season, which he went seven innings against Kansas City.

“I can’t begin to explain how frustrated I am right now. It’s like I’m not getting very many break,” Blackburn said after Wednesday’s loss. “Guys go through streaks like that. It’s not fun, I guarantee you. I’m not enjoying myself right now.”

Blackburn and the Twins fell behind early thanks to an error by Brian Dozier that allowed Alex Rios to score from third on a grounder by Alexei Ramirez. Blackburn surrendered another run in the second on a double off the right field wall by Kevin Youkilis that scored Eduardo Escobar and made it 2-0 Chicago.

Then, within a span of three pitches, that lead increased to 6-0 for the White Sox in the fifth inning. Adam Dunn — who struck out six times in the first two games of the series and was 2-for-33 in his last nine games prior to Wednesday — hit a three-run homer to left off Blackburn for a 5-0 Sox lead. Two pitches later, Alex Rios followed with a solo homer to left, his 10th of the season.

It was the third time Blackburn allowed two or more homers in a game — and the second time in as many starts. He’s now given up 13 homers in 12 starts, the most among all Twins pitchers.

“Once again, I made some mistakes and they hit it out,” Blackburn said. “I’ve got to stop leaving the ball up. I feel like right now if it’s above the knees, it’s going to leave the yard, and that’s been the case. Keep going out and working and that’s about all I can do.”

Added manager Ron Gardenhire: “Blackie looked like he was throwing OK and then he had the big inning where he just got a couple balls up and they put them in the seats.”

Wednesday’s loss actually snapped a streak in which the Twins had won in each of Blackburn’s previous six starts. During those six games, he was 4-0 but posted an 8.04 ERA. Minnesota won two of those games by 11-7 margins. Just once during that stretch did Blackburn pitch more than five innings.

Since returning from the disabled list in early June with a left quad strain, Blackburn was 3-0 but had a 6.00 ERA in those four starts prior to Wednesday. He said after the recent loss that his his leg is no longer an issue.

“I feel like I’m strong out there. I feel like my delivery is where it should be,” he said. “… I feel like my mechanics are finally in a good spot. Just the fact that I’m not getting the consistency that I need to, that’s what’s got to change is just be more effective every time and stop making mistakes. It’s hard to go out there and be perfect, obviously, but too many mistakes.”

Starting pitching has been the Twins’ Achilles heel this year, and Blackburn has been one of the culprits. With little starting pitching depth in the minor league system, however, Gardenhire said the Twins will continue to keep Blackburn in the rotation despite his ERA jumping to 7.74 after yet another unimpressive outing.

“Look at his last few starts. He’s thrown the ball pretty good,” Gardenhire said. “This was a bad start for him. He’s battled better. … There’s not many options. Some of these guys have to get people out. We brought them here to do that. We signed them here to do that. They have to get outs.”

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