Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/25/12
MINNEAPOLIS After skipping his last start due to shoulder tightness, Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn was on an 80-85 pitch limit Tuesday night. He nearly used them all up in the first inning. It was that kind of a night for Blackburn and the Twins, who fell, 11-2, to the visiting Boston Red Sox. It took Blackburn just five pitches to surrender the first of his five runs on the night. His night lasted only three innings, and he fell short of his pitch limit, at 71 pitches (44 strikes). When Blackburn's night was over, he had allowed five runs on eight hits, including a David Ortiz homer. "It didn't work out for Blackie today. He just never got into the groove," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They jumped on him. He never got going." Blackburn exited his last start on April 14 in the middle of an at-bat against the Texas Rangers after experiencing discomfort and tightness in his right shoulder. He skipped his next time through the rotation, meaning he had a 10-day layoff prior to Tuesday's start. Blackburn said he felt fine physically and didn't think the long layoff contributed to any rust. But he was hit with the loss, his sixth in his last nine starts, dating back to July of last season."My arm felt great," he said after Tuesday's loss. "I was falling behind hitters and wasn't making pitches when I needed to."Blackburn's start was yet another rough outing for Minnesota's rotation. On Monday, starter Jason Marquis gave up five runs on 11 hits in 6 13 innings. One day earlier, Francisco Liriano also surrendered five runs in five innings of work against Tampa Bay."Our starters have to do a better job of getting deeper into the games, and we've got to get the ball out of those bullpen guys' hands or they're all not going to make it through this year," said Gardenhire.With Minnesota's starting pitchers struggling in the early innings, it's put the Twins' offense in early deficits. Including one run in the first inning Tuesday, the Twins have now scored just 18 total runs in the first through third innings this season. Conversely, Minnesota's pitchers have allowed 43 runs in the first three innings so far, including three in the first Tuesday and two more in the third.While the Twins have shown the ability to come back at least partially in many games, the early deficit has proven to be too much more often than not. It certainly was Tuesday, as Minnesota never recovered from falling behind 3-0 and later 7-1."It makes it difficult, but at the same time, you get 27 outs. You get a lot of at-bats to play with," Twins designated hitter Justin Morneau said of his team's early deficits. "We've got an offense that's capable of scoring runs, and it shouldn't matter whether it's nothing-nothing, or 3-0 in the first. We need to go out there with the same kind of approach and try to score runs. We had a good first inning, but it didn't carry over after that."Blackburn didn't help the cause Tuesday. He threw 27 pitches and faced eight batters in the first inning, allowing three runs. Minnesota trailed from the second batter of the game to the final out of the night."He just didn't have it. You saw it. Seventy pitches in three innings? That's too many pitches," Gardenhire said. "Behind, misfiring. His ball was moving all over the place, but that probably led to a lot of balls called because he had somuch movement. His arm felt great, he felt great, he just didn't have it.Minnesota's starting rotation is the Twins' biggest issue through 18 games this season. Their starters have combined for a 6.73 ERA and just three quality starts.If something doesn't change soon, the Twins' freefall will continue."We have to get (the starting pitchers) straightened out. We can't go out and buy people. We've got to make this work," Gardenhire said. "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."Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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