KANSAS CITY, MO. - The Twins have finally built some positive momentum, winning three series in a row for the first time since last July, and one of the main reasons is their much-maligned bullpen.
On their just completed, six-game road trip, Twins relievers allowed one earned run over 21 innings, for a 0.43 ERA. Jared Burton highlighted the dominance, recording nine outs on the trip -- including eight strikeouts.
The bullpen added four scoreless innings Wednesday night, backing up an encouraging outing from Nick Blackburn, as the Twins defeated the Royals 4-2 at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins took two of three in Kansas City after doing the same in Cleveland, and before that, they swept three games from Oakland at Target Field. Over those nine games, Twins relievers have held opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.
"These guys are unbelievable right now," said Blackburn, who handed over a 3-2 lead in the sixth. "I don't know of anybody doing much better."
Manager Ron Gardenhire knows the key to sustaining a bullpen's success is getting good, long outings from the starters, and the revamped rotation has been much better as the team has gone 12-8 since a dismal 10-26 start.
Blackburn was a big part of the problem early in the season, going 1-4 with an 8.37 ERA, but he treated Wednesday like a new beginning after a stint on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps muscle.
Two batters into Blackburn's outing, the Royals had two runs, as Alex Gordon singled, and Yuniesky Betancourt drilled a two-run homer, giving Kansas City a 2-1 lead. But Blackburn settled into a groove after that.
"First few innings, he looked a little rusty, but he made pitches when he had to, and the last couple innings were really good," Gardenhire said. "We were happy to see that. He's supposed to be one of our big starters, and we need him to start eating up innings and winning ballgames for us. That'll help us get on the right track ourselves."
Offensively, the Twins expected a tough matchup against hard-throwing Royals righthander Felipe Paulino, but he departed the game in the first inning with a strained right groin. Paulino had a 1.70 ERA, compared to 5.59 for his replacement, Luis Mendoza, but Mendoza held the Twins to three runs over five innings.
With the Twins trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Justin Morneau lined a two-out, two-run single to left field, putting the Twins back in the lead. At that point, Blackburn needed one more inning to be in position for the win. It wasn't easy. He walked Gordon on four pitches with one out, and a two-out single by Billy Butler put runners at first and third, with the Royals' hottest hitter, Mike Moustakas, coming to the plate.
Gardenhire usually gives lets his starters try to work out of those situations if he feels like they've earned it. Blackburn rewarded Gardenhire for his faith, as Moustakas flied out to right field, ending the inning.
"They asked me how I felt, and I told them I felt strong," said Blackburn, who threw 51 of his 92 pitches for strikes. "I didn't feel I threw as many pitches as I did. That's a big step for me."
Jeff Manship pitched a scoreless sixth, Burton got four outs (three via strikeout), Glen Perkins got the final two outs of eighth inning, and Matt Capps pitched the ninth for his 14th save in 15 chances.
"You just try to go out and feed off what everybody else is doing," Capps said. "Burton's been throwing the ball great all year. Obviously the stuff Perkins has, and you can say that for everybody."