Twins' power show masks flaw

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2012 - 5:03 AM

The Twins won their fifth in a row as Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe supplied the fireworks, but Nick Blackburn's troubles continued.

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DETROIT - The Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe Show continued Tuesday night, which was a good thing for Twins fans, who had to sit through another airing of that Nick Blackburn horror flick.

Blackburn turned in another dismal performance, leaving his future in the rotation uncertain, but Willingham and Plouffe did enough damage to lead the Twins over the Tigers 8-6 at Comerica Park.

"We'll talk about [Blackburn's status] over the next day or so, figure out what we're going to do, but tonight we're going to talk about the game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Huge win by our baseball team."

The Twins are riding a season-long five-game winning streak, with Willingham and Plouffe providing a nice distraction from the team's season-long story line of woeful starting pitching.

When "the Hammer" or "Babe Plouffe" homers, the other can't seem to help himself. They are turning the race for the team's home run lead into a summer thriller.

Over the past month, they have homered in the same game six times. It has happened seven times on the same day, including Saturday's doubleheader against the Royals, when Plouffe homered in Game 1 and Willingham answered in Game 2.

Fun fact: In their legendary home run race in 1961, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris homered on the same day 14 times.

In the latest shootout at Comerica Park, Willingham and Plouffe both drilled two-run homers to left field in the third inning. Those homers gave the Twins a 6-3 lead, but the Tigers answered with homers in the fourth by Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson to tie the score.

The game turned into a battle of bullpens, and Ryan Doumit finally put the Twins back in front with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Joe Mauer added an insurance run in the ninth when he connected for his fifth home run.

Jeff Gray (5-0) pitched two innings to get the win, and after some impressive setup work by rookies Kyle Waldrop and Tyler Robertson, Glen Perkins pitched the ninth for his fourth save. It was Perkins' fourth appearance in as many days.

Blackburn has become another big dilemma for the Twins. Earlier Tuesday, they optioned Liam Hendriks back to Class AAA Rochester with his ERA at 7.04, and recalled Cole De Vries.

Now, Blackburn has an 8.10 ERA. He lasted only four innings in this start, giving up six runs on eight hits.

He still has a minor league option remaining and has fewer than five years of major league service time, so the Twins can still send him down. They demoted him to Rochester in July 2010, so it wouldn't be the first time.

"I haven't had maybe one good outing this year, and it's beyond me at this point," said Blackburn, who is 21-27 with a 5.51 ERA since signing a four-year, $14 million extension in 2010. "I go in every game with confidence because I feel like I have the stuff to compete, and I'm just not. It's not a whole lot of fun."

After waiting through a 90-minute rain delay, Blackburn fell behind 3-1 in the second inning before the Twins came back with five runs in the third. Willingham moved into a tie for the team lead with his 18th home run that inning, but two batters later, Plouffe smashed his 19th.

Another fun fact: Michael Cuddyer led the Twins in home runs last year ... with 20.

"I don't know what's going on with the water in the clubhouse, but Mauer's drinking it now, too," Perkins said. "It's fun to watch."


    Up next: 6:05 tonight at Detroit • TV: FSN (1500-AM)

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