By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
MINNEAPOLIS — Twins hitters drew a few more groans from Target Field’s patrons Tuesday night, as their struggles with runners in scoring position continued during the early innings against the Red Sox.
The Twins had batted .170 with runners in scoring position over their previous five games, so it was easy to understand everyone’s frustration.
But here’s the thing: That number figures to correct itself over time. The far greater concern is pitching. And that issue probably won’t go away any time soon.
The Twins combined all their early season shortcomings into one game, as the Red Sox pounded pitchers Nick Blackburn and Matt Maloney for eight hits apiece. The result was an 11-2 Boston victory in front of an announced crowd of 33,651.
The Twins lost their fourth in a row, falling to 5-13.
Blackburn lasted three innings in his first appearance since April 14,when he left his start against Texas in the sixth inning because of right shoulder stiffness. It looked as if he might not make it out of the first inning this time, as five of the first six Boston batters knocked out hits.
The Red Sox led 3-0 after the top of the first and 5-1 two innings later, when David Ortiz smashed a two-run homer, an estimated 429 feet toward the Twins Tower in right field.
Twins starters have combined to go 2-10 with a major league-worst 6.73 ERA through 18 games. With Scott Baker out because of a season-ending elbow injury and Francisco Liriano in a major funk, the Twins have received almost nothing from their two most promising starters.
The Twins have their fingers crossed that Blackburn can help bridge the gap. He’s either on or he’s off. He was off the second half of last year, but he was on during spring training, posting a 2.12 ERA and holding opponents to a .186 batting average.
Before leaving with the injury, Blackburn actually raised hope with his start against Texas, allowing two runs over 5 innings. But he showed plenty of rust Tuesday after the 10-day layoff.
Boston’s starters had the second worst ERA (5.81) coming into Tuesday, but Josh Beckett overcame a 37-pitch first inning to hold the Twins to two runs through the sixth.
By then, the Red Sox had stretched their lead to 10-2. Maloney, who entered with a 4.32 ERA, entered a 5-1 game in the fourth inning, and things quickly got out of hand. Boston’s eight hits off the lefthander were condensed to 1 innings.
It started raining rather suddenly during the fourth, with the Twins trailing 7-1, and fans streamed for the exits. It was fair to wonder if they ever would return, though a surprisingly large number of them did wait out the passing shower and go back to their seats.