Twins drop series opener to White Sox
Minnesota falls 3 1/2 games behind Chicago in AL Central
CHICAGO -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has made it abundantly clear that when his team can find a way to cut its pitching staff from 13 arms down to 12, that's exactly what they will do."My goal is to get there as quick as I can," Gardenhire said. "I just have to wait for some things to happen with the general manager and go from there." The decision to go with 13 pitchers has not necessarily been based on need, but rather the situation the club currently finds itself in. With pitchers Brian Bass, Boof Bonser and Juan Rincon all out of options, the team would be forced to put them on waivers should they be sent down. Those are waivers that cannot be revoked should another team claim the pitchers, meaning that the team would possibly lose that arm. Rather than take that risk, the Twins have stuck with 13 pitchers for the time being. But while it's not a situation that the Twins necessarily want right now, that 13-man pitching staff has sure seen its share of work. And the club's bullpen was forced into early action once again on Friday night, pitching five innings in the Twins' 10-6 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. The loss dropped the Twins to 3 1/2 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central. A swirling wind hovered around the ballpark on Friday, with gusts reaching up to 38 mph, and the message was clear -- keep the ball down. Neither team did very good at that as they combined for seven home runs. But Gardenhire felt that it was his pitching staff which struggled the most with the task. "It was a rough night for us pitching," Gardenhire said. "The ball was flying all over the place. And every time we got a ball up tonight, they were whacking it." And that began with starter Nick Blackburn. In his first start since taking a line drive from Bobby Abreu to the face, Blackburn didn't find much trouble early on in his outing. He retired six of the first seven batters he faced, with only A.J. Pierzynski reaching in the first on a hit by pitch. Blackburn gave up two runs over his next two innings, but he still entered the fifth with a 3-2 lead, thanks to his team tagging White Sox starter Javier Vazquez for three runs in the third. But it was in the fifth that things fell apart for the Twins starter -- and fell apart fast. He gave up five straight hits to start off the inning. That included two straight singles followed by a bunt toward the third-base line by White Sox second baseman Alexi Ramirez. On the bunt play, both Blackburn and third baseman Mike Lamb charged in on the ball. And in the jumble, Lamb was not able to make a throw to first in time. It loaded the bases with no outs and was made even more frustrating by the fact that during the previous inning, the Twins were unable to execute their own bunt with two men on to stall a similar scoring drive. But the White Sox would continue theirs. Blackburn continued to struggle in the inning, giving up an RBI single to Orlando Cabrera and then a two-run double to Pierzynski, before leaving the game. "That's what a lineup like this can do and it can happen fast," Blackburn said of Chicago's quick scoring. "It was no surprise that it happened that fast. I've seen them do it before." Upon Blackburn's exit, the Twins called on Rincon, who has seen his share of struggles recently. The Twins have been trying to put Rincon in situations where he can have success to build up his confidence. But having used Bass on Thursday, the team didn't want to give him too much work. Gardenhire wanted to give Bonser another day of rest after he threw 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday night in his first relief appearance. And it was too early to go to any of his late situation guys. So there it was, an opportunity for Rincon to put some of his recent troubles behind him. Except they only grew worse. On the first pitch Rincon threw, a slider on the inner-half of the plate, Carlos Quentin belted a fly ball high into the swirling wind that looked to be carrying just over the right-field fence. Michael Cuddyer tried to rob Quentin of the homer, getting a perfectly timed jump. But with his glove bent back over the wall, Cuddyer felt the ball hit the upper part of his glove's webbing only to squirt out when his body hit the wall. And it fell in the bullpen to give Quentin a three-run homer. Rincon would come out for the sixth and give up one more run, on Joe Crede's second solo homer of the game, and he's now has posted an 8.31 ERA over his last six outings (eight total innings). "He's snake bit," Gardenhire said of Rincon. "He's getting pitches up in the zone. First pitch wasn't that bad of a pitch. But the ball is still up. You've got to get the ball down with the wind blowing like that." In addition to Rincon's 1 1/3 inning of work, Bass threw another two innings -- giving up a solo home run to Jermaine Dye -- and left-hander Craig Breslow added two-thirds of an inning to finish out the game. But while Gardenhire has been using his entire staff, he still is focused on trying to get to that 12 man staff -- and quickly. Meaning that Rincon or one of the other struggling relievers could be on their way out. "I told [general manager Bill Smith] that maybe we can do this for a week here," Gardenhire said of his 13-man staff. "Or that is, until he can do something."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.