Lack of fire, plenty of misfires make for bleak doubleheader

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2011 - 8:24 AM

The Twins showcased their weak pitching in the opener and lack of offense in nightcap.

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Between games of Thursday's doubleheader, Michael Cuddyer said the Twins "just don't have that fire right now."

By night's end, the flame still wasn't flickering at Target Field.

After losing to Tampa Bay 15-3 in the afternoon, the Twins changed the storyline from their woeful pitching to their feeble offense.

For six innings of the nightcap, they didn't have a hit against Jeff Niemann, a 6-foot-9 righthander who entered with a 7.08 ERA.

Denard Span finally ended Niemann's no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the seventh, but the Rays held on to defeat the Twins 6-1, completing a three-game sweep.

"That's a straight old-fashioned beatdown," Span said after the Twins got outscored in the series 29-6.

Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist treated the three games as his own personal showcase, going 8-for-13, with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and 13 RBI.

That's more RBI than any Twin has for the entire season.

Eight of Zobrist's RBI came in Thursday's first game, when Tampa Bay jumped on Nick Blackburn, much as they did with Francisco Liriano in Wednesday's 8-2 victory.

Anthony Swarzak, who was called up from Class AAA Rochester to start Thursday's second game, allowed five runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Pitching on short rest after a rocky start Sunday against Pawtucket, Swarzak did one thing that the Twins desperately needed -- pitching past the game's midpoint, saving wear and tear on the bullpen.

Afterward, the Twins optioned him back to Rochester, recalling reliever Alex Burnett.

Earlier in the day, manager Ron Gardenhire summoned closer Matt Capps, even though the Twins trailed by 12 runs.

Gardenhire explained that Capps was available to pitch in both games, while Joe Nathan could pitch in only one.

With just three relievers available for the nightcap -- Capps, Nathan and Glen Perkins -- the team couldn't afford to use Nathan in that spot.

"It was Capps or Cuddyer, and I elected not to do that," Gardenhire said.

Nathan wound up pitching a perfect ninth inning in the series finale.

Blackburn (1-4) lasted just 3 1/3 innings, allowing seven runs (five earned) on eight hits. He issued four walks without notching a strikeout.

With four losses in his past four starts, Blackburn has had his ERA swell to 5.14.

The Twins just don't have the offense to overcome that right now.

They rank last in the American League in runs per game, at 3.2, and have scored more than five just once in 24 games.

Rene Tosoni provided a bright spot Thursday afternoon, going 2-for-4 with an RBI in his major league debut. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the nightcap.

After a 1-8 start, Tampa Bay is a major league best 13-3 since April 10. So there's hope for the Twins.

"When it's 15-3, it's hard to have a lot of fire in the dugout," Gardenhire said.

"There's not going to be many pompoms when you're getting your butt kicked. The second game, we were into it. [Tampa Bay] is playing really well on the road, and they pretty much stuck it to us."

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