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MIN@OAK: Young singles to score Thome in the second

OAKLAND -- Right-hander Nick Blackburn can't put a finger on why he's been struggling so much recently.

The sinkerballer started out the season with a fury, posting a 3.16 ERA through his first seven starts. But it's gone downhill from there, as Blackburn has a 1-4 record and a 7.55 ERA over his last eight starts, including another tough outing against the A's.

Blackburn simply continued his recent struggles on Saturday, as he couldn't get through the fifth inning of the Twins' 8-3 loss to the A's at the Oakland Coliseum, which kept them six games back of the Tigers in the American League Central.

"I have no idea at this point, obviously," said Blackburn, when asked about the reasons why he's struggled. "I've pretty much tried everything I can. I know it's not mechanical, at this point. I just need to get everything down. My bullpens and everything in between my starts have been going great. But the game comes along, and I can't throw anything below the knees."

Blackburn, who was shelled in his previous outing when he gave up nine runs in just 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers on Monday, had trouble locating his pitches yet again.

He allowed seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits and a season-high five walks over 4 1/3 innings, and mostly abandoned his trademark sinker because he couldn't keep it down in the zone.

"When it's up, it's worthless," Blackburn said of his sinker. "So I wasn't even throwing sinkers tonight most of the time. I was trying to stick with four-seamers I could get down. But it didn't really matter. Anything that was down, they spit on, and just waited for something to be up."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has recognized Blackburn's recent scuffles, but says he's confident he can get back on another hot streak, as long as he believes in his stuff.

"He's a sinkerballer, and sinkerballers are gonna be that way," Gardenhire said. "He's going to get groundballs, but they're either going to go at somebody or in holes. We've said that all along. I think, right now, he's not trusting his sinkerball enough, and has been throwing an awful lot of breaking pitches."

Blackburn struggled from the start, allowing a run in the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Josh Willingham after Coco Crisp singled, stole second and reached third on a throwing error by Joe Mauer.

It was more of the same in the second, when he loaded the bases with no outs, and allowed a run to score on a double-play ball hit by Landon Powell and an RBI triple by Jemile Weeks.

Blackburn settled down for a few frames after that rocky start, but imploded in the fifth. He allowed three straight hits to open the inning -- including Ryan Sweeney's RBI single -- before loading the bases with one out on an intentional walk to Cliff Pennington. This set the stage for a three-run double by Scott Sizemore off the glove of third baseman Danny Valencia.

Right-hander Anthony Swarzak relieved Blackburn and threw 2 2/3 innings, allowing just an unearned run in the sixth on a passed ball with the bases loaded.

The Twins' offense, meanwhile, was mostly held in check by A's right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who went 6 1/3 innings, surrendering two runs on seven hits and a walk.

The Twins scored in the first on a single by Michael Cuddyer, after Ben Revere singled and stole second base, and again in the second on a single by Delmon Young that scored Jim Thome, who doubled earlier in the frame.

"I was trying to mix the pitches they were jumping on early," Moscoso said. "After those two innings, I spoke to [pitching coach Ron] Romanick. And we mixed it up a little bit, and tried to mix those pitches and be more aggressive down and away and get ahead in the first three pitches. That's what I did after the second inning, and that was the key to the [6 1/3 innings]."

The Twins were then kept off the scoreboard until adding a late run in the ninth on an RBI single by Thome.

"It was a bad night for us," Gardenhire said. "It was one of the worst defensive performances we've had in a while. The ball was rolling all over the place. Blackie really labored, and I think you saw too many talks at the mound. So it was not a good night to get behind like that and miss some plays."

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