MINNEAPOLIS – This month, the man on the mound hasn't mattered for the Minnesota Twins. Pitches are moving in and out, up and down. Balls are hitting the ground, often right to the glove.
Nick Blackburn took the latest turn.
Blackburn tossed eight shutout innings, and Michael Cuddyer's home run was enough to beat Mark Buehrle and the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on Thursday.
Blackburn (6-4) matched his career high by winning his fifth straight decision, coming over his past nine starts. He scattered seven hits with one walk and one strikeout, continuing a remarkable June run by the rotation.
"He's in complete control of the games," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The Twins have won 11 of their last 13 games, including four in a row, and during that stretch the starters have an ERA of 1.79.
"It's all cyclical. You've got to ride the good waves out, and right now is a good one," Cuddyer said.
Buehrle was beaten despite giving up just three hits over seven innings, and the White Sox fell to 0-4 this year against their primary division rival — scoring a total of three runs in the process.
"They play good baseball when they play at home. They're not just playing good baseball against us. I think they've been playing good baseball for a few weeks," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Matt Capps, making his first appearance in eight days, pitched the ninth for his ninth save in 14 attempts this season. He gave up a one-out single to Adam Dunn, but Gordon Beckham and pinch hitter Omar Vizquel each struck out to end the game.
"That whole team is an aggressive team. No one's up there trying to work the count too much; a lot of first-pitch swingers, and guys are trying to put it in play," Blackburn said. "But when everything's coming out of my hand pretty well, that can sometimes play to my advantage."
Blackburn was the fourth straight Twins starter to last at least eight innings. He said he was tired after 95 pitches and more than happy to hand the ball to the closer.
"All we ask is our pitchers to be honest with us," Gardenhire said.
And to throw strikes, which they didn't do very well earlier in the season.
"I don't know what was going on. Myself, I was probably picking around the corners too much, trying to be too fine," Blackburn said. "Lately I've just been trying to rely on my movement. I find myself at times trying to throw one down the middle and let 'em hit it to somebody."
Buehrle (6-5) has pitched exceptionally well over his last eight starts since the beginning of May, surrendering only 17 runs in 55 innings for a 2.78 ERA. He's 5-2 in that span, thanks to this hard-luck second loss. Buehrle walked two, hit one batter and struck out three.
All it took was one big swing from the surging Cuddyer, who leads the Twins with 10 home runs, double the amount of the next-closest teammate. He sent Buehrle's pitch into the White Sox bullpen beyond left-center field leading off the second inning, and Blackburn held that up.
Cuddyer has been a streaky hitter in his career but also can be a dangerous opponent for left-hander pitchers, as Buehrle has learned. Cuddyer is now batting .344 (33 for 96) with three homers and 11 RBIs against Buehrle.
"He's a good hitter," Buehrle said. "He's one of the few guys they have in that lineup that was there for opening day, and he's doing what he has to do to carry that team."
Mimicking Carl Pavano's complete game the night before, Blackburn kept the White Sox guessing and kept the ball on the ground all afternoon.
The right-hander induced a pair of double plays and could've had a third, but Tsuyoshi Nishioka committed an error by bobbling a bouncing ball hit by Paul Konerko in the sixth before he could start to turn two. Nishioka was plenty busy at shortstop, showing exceptional range and nearly making a highlight-reel play by stopping Carlos Quentin's grounder deep in the hole and throwing accurately to first.
Nishioka made his Target Field debut after missing more than two months due to a broken lower left leg. He went 1 for 4 with two strikeouts.
Nishioka looked a little tentative, but except for the error he looked deft on defense. Gardenhire didn't exactly ease him in, sticking him in the third spot in the order, but he said before the game Nishioka told him he'd be comfortable anywhere in the lineup.
"I have nothing to really worry about anymore, after going through the rehab," Nishioka said, through his interpreter.
Notes: The Twins will send RHP Joe Nathan to Triple-A Rochester this weekend to continue his rehab from a strained forearm. ... The Twins have won six straight series against the White Sox.