Marquis struggles, Twins can’t catch Blue Jays

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins’ majors-worst record fell to 8-23 with another wince-worthy performance.

No sequence was more exemplary of a sputtering team than the two-out pop-up that fell in front of the plate to let a run score in the fourth inning.

Henderson Alvarez pitched seven strong innings to win his third straight start for the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-2 over the Twins on Thursday night.

Alvarez (3-2) allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out two, and one of the runs against him was unearned. Josh Willingham hit a home run in the sixth, but the 22-year-old Venezuelan didn’t give up any more than that.

Yunel Escobar scored three times and hit four singles, and Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie each drove in two runs against Jason Marquis (2-2), the second veteran Twins starter in two nights to complete only four innings — following Carl Pavano’s early exit. Marquis allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — while walking three and striking out two.

“Just not playing good baseball in any aspect of the game. It’s not one’s person’s fault. It’s a team effort, and we’ve got to get better at our jobs,” Marquis said.

Encarnacion hit a seemingly harmless two-out pop-up in front of the plate with two runners on in that flop of a fourth inning.

Catcher Ryan Doumit never saw it, as if the ball were lost in the faded beige roof the Twins used to play under at the Metrodome before they moved to the open air at Target Field.

Marquis crept forward, looking like he figured Doumit would take it — until realizing otherwise and losing track of it himself. Marquis hustled toward the ball was close to position for the catch until hesitating at the last second, when he heard someone else call for it. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe had a late break on the ball but told manager Ron Gardenhire he should’ve caught it.

“That’s a routine pop-up. That’s a play that’s got to be made to help out our pitcher,” Marquis said. “When it rains it pours, and it’s pouring right now.”

As the ball fell between them and bounced on the grass, Escobar raced home to stretch the lead to 6-1.

“Things happen out there that really don’t happen in high school,” Gardenhire said.

Including in the third, when Escobar went from second to home on a 5-4 fielder’s choice force-out. And in the fourth, when Plouffe ran right into the second baseman’s tag to accelerate one of those double plays.

“Trying to stay positive but it has been tough,” catcher Joe Mauer said. “We haven’t pitched. We haven’t hit. We haven’t played defense. It’s tough to win ballgames like that.”

Coming off his first career shutout last week against the Los Angeles Angels, Alvarez got the Twins to hit ground ball after ground ball just when he needed it. They hit into three double plays and almost had a fourth, but Johnson’s wild relay after the shortstop Escobar bobbled a grounder hit right at him wiped that one out.

Alvarez helped himself, too, on a scorcher sent back to the mound by Doumit in the second. Alvarez reached down to grab it like a hockey goalie in one smooth scoop and turned to throw for the out as Doumit tossed his bat toward the dugout in frustration.

The Blue Jays showed plenty of hustle behind Alvarez in the field as well as on the bases. Jose Bautista’s bullet of a throw from right field got Erik Komatsu trying to go from corner to corner after a single and a throwing error in the second.

“We have to figure things out. The guys are pressing. If we keep doing that, things are going to get worse,” Mauer said.

NOTES: Willingham is batting .476 in 42 at-bats at home, compared to .185 in 54 at-bats on the road. … The Twins have lost 11 of their last 13 games against the Blue Jays. … Twins RH P.J. Walters, the latest reinforcement from Triple-A Rochester to join the rotation, will start Saturday night. He said his family was scrambling to make travel arrangements to watch his debut. LF Darin Mastroianni, the other call-up in the latest set of moves, will have to wait a little bit for his loved ones to arrive. His younger brother is graduating from Brevard College in North Carolina this weekend. “That kind of supersedes this, with Mother’s Day coming up,” Mastroianni said. …Twins lefty Francisco Liriano said before the game the team’s plan is for him to pitch in relief a couple of times before returning to the rotation. “I’ve been there before so I have to go out there and try to do my job. I’m happy to be here and try to do anything to help the team win some ballgames.”