MINNEAPOLIS – After watching another one of his starting pitchers get knocked out early, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is wondering just how long his severely overworked bullpen can hold up.
Nick Blackburn lasted just three innings, giving up five runs and eight hits in an 11-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Blackburn (0-2) needed 71 pitches in those three innings, the latest in a long line of short starts for the Twins, who have lost four straight games. Their starting rotation is 2-10 with a 6.73 ERA and just three quality starts in 18 games this season. They have been outscored 43-18 in the first three innings this season.
"We have to get them straightened out," Gardenhire said of his starters. "We can't go out and buy people. We've got to make this work. You understand? I can't rub a bottle to make somebody pop out. We have to make these guys work.
"Confidence level? I have a lot of confidence in these guys. But they have to get it done in the field. It doesn't matter what I say in here."
Blackburn left his previous start in the sixth inning with stiffness in his right shoulder and was skipped the next time through the rotation. He gave up three runs and five hits in the first inning and allowed a towering, two-run homer to David Ortiz in the third inning before leaving the game. Matt Maloney didn't fare any better, getting tagged for five runs and eight hits in 1 2-3 innings.
"We've got to get better performances and more consistent performances or else we'll kill our bullpen," Gardenhire said. "So we've got a lot of work to do with these guys to get them on track. We need them to step up. I think they know that."
Josh Willingham had two hits and an RBI for Minnesota, but that was about all the Twins could muster against Josh Beckett (2-2), who struck out five and allowed two runs and five hits in six innings.
The Twins had him on the ropes in the first inning when the fiery Texan appeared to get a little rattled by home plate umpire Adrian Johnson's strike zone. He walked three straight hitters, including Justin Morneau with the bases loaded, to make it 3-1.
Beckett gave several long looks into Johnson on a couple of close pitches to Willingham and Danny Valencia. After getting Valencia to ground out to end the inning, Beckett let out a scream as he walked off the mound and yelled "That's (expletive) five outs!" in Johnson's direction. As Johnson started to walk toward Beckett, manager Bobby Valentine briefly left the dugout to diffuse the situation.
"We kind of got him to throw a bunch of pitches early, and he ended up lasting pretty late into the game," Morneau said. "It was a chance to take advantage of him and get back into the game early, and get into their bullpen, and we didn't do it. That was the story of the game."
Mike Aviles went 4 for 5 with a homer and two RBIs for the Red Sox, who had no trouble with this big lead after squandering a nine-run lead in a loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday.
Ortiz's monster, two-run shot in the third inning landed on the stairway in right field — an estimated 429 feet — to make it 5-1. It was the continuation of an incredible start for the 36-year-old slugger, who is hitting .444 with three homers and 15 RBIs. His 28 hits are a career-high for April.
"I didn't learn how to hit yesterday," Ortiz said with a smile. "I've been doing this for years. Just taking what they give you."
NOTES: Twins CF Denard Span had two hits and 1B Joe Mauer went 1 for 3. ... The Twins placed INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the minor league DL with a high ankle sprain. GM Terry Ryan said Nishioka could miss 10 days with the injury. ... The Twins planned to call up OF Ben Revere from Triple-A Rochester on Wednesday to replace Willingham, who is taking three days of paternity leave while his wife has the couple's third child. ... The Red Sox will send struggling RHP Clay Buchholz (1-1, 9.00 ERA) to the mound to go for the series sweep against Minnesota's RHP Liam Hendriks (0-0, 3.86 ERA) on Wednesday. Buchholz gave up six earned runs and five home runs in a loss to the Yankees last week.