MINNEAPOLIS — After facing just three batters Saturday night, it appeared highly unlikely that Twins starter Nick Blackburn would pitch deep into the game against Tampa Bay.
But unlike starter Cole De Vries the night before, Blackburn was able to make adjustments after his three-run first inning. The Twins right-hander settled down and pitched into the seventh inning. He exited the inning after facing two batters without recording an out in the frame, but was bailed out by the bullpen.
When all was said and done, Blackburn went six-plus innings, allowing four runs on 11 hits in the Twins’ 4-2 loss to left-hander David Price and the Rays. Blackburn’s final line wasn’t pretty by any means. Considering he allowed two home runs within his first seven pitches, however, things could have been much worse.
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“A night kind of like last night, they jumped us in the first inning,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “After that, Blackie settled in nice, but the first inning they were swinging early and banged ’em. We knew going in they were aggressive early. Blackie couldn’t make any pitches in the first inning but settled in nice, got us deep in the game.”
Blackburn gave up a hit on the first pitch of the game to the free-swinging Rays, as Desmond Jennings singled to lead off the night. Just two pitches later, it was a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead after B.J. Upton’s two-run homer landed in the back bullpen in left-center field.
Only four pitches after that, Blackburn served up another homer, this time to Matt Joyce.
Seven total pitches, three runs. The Rays once again jumped on the Twins’ starting pitching early.
“The first three guys just kind of ambushed me,” Blackburn said after the game. “I came out and wasn’t quite where I wanted to be location-wise. It pretty much cost us tonight.”
After that, though, Blackburn established his sinker and got on track. He induced a 5-4-3 double play to stop the bleeding and get out of the first inning. He then faced the minimum in the second and third innings and used yet another ground ball double play to escape the fourth inning unscathed.
Blackburn’s only other mistake the rest of the night came with two outs in the fifth when Upton went deep for a solo shot, his second homer of the night. After a scoreless sixth inning, Blackburn came out for the seventh — something that seemed improbable when he fell behind 3-0 after just three batters.
Yet he was able to make the adjustments to pitch deeper into the game, sparing Minnesota’s bullpen one night after the relievers combined for 7 2/3 innings.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing right out of the gate to be down 3-0,” Blackburn said. “I know that’s tough on the offense, especially facing a pretty good guy over there. But you have to kind of move past it and go ahead and try to start executing your game plan. I thought we settled in pretty well. Still gave up quite a few hits, but that’s what those guys do.”
The Rays’ batters have jumped on Minnesota’s starting pitching early two nights in a row, and it’s resulted in a pair of wins for Tampa Bay. De Vries gave up eight runs on seven hits in just 1 1/3 innings on Friday, and Blackburn served up two homers Saturday before recording an out. The difference, though, was the in-game adjustments made by the veteran Blackburn and a lack of adjustments from the rookie De Vries.
By now, the Twins pitchers know that the Rays like to swing early in the count. It’s up to left-hander Scott Diamond to break the trend in Sunday’s series finale.
“I actually already have talked to (Diamond),” Blackburn said after the game. “He’s a smart pitcher. I know he’s already got a game plan.”
Twins’ season attendance passes two million mark: Despite a 49-64 record, the Minnesota Twins are having no problems filling the seats at Target Field.
With an announced crowd of 39,512 at Saturday’s game at Target Field, the Twins have now drawn over 2,000,000 for the season (2,006,264) through 57 home games. It marks the eight straight season in which Minnesota has hit the two million mark.
The 57 games is the fourth-quickest in team history to reach 2,000,000 fans. The Twins eclipsed that mark in just 51 games in both 2010 and 2011. They also reached the mark in 56 games in 1988.