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Twins' losses pile up

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Blackburn was the Minnesota Twins' steadiest starting pitcher earlier this season, but by Sunday afternoon, that seemed like ages ago.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Blackburn was the Minnesota Twins' steadiest starting pitcher earlier this season, but by Sunday afternoon, that seemed like ages ago.

Trying to save face on a disappointing homestand, the Twins had grabbed a three-run lead against Cleveland when Blackburn suddenly imploded again.

Cleveland pounded him for six runs in the third inning, forcing manager Ron Gardenhire to make another quick hook, and the Twins never recovered in a 7-4 loss at the Metrodome.

With the Twins in a 9-17 freefall, they have myriad issues, but few are as puzzling as Blackburn, who is 0-4 with a 10.17 ERA in his past six starts.

Asked about his confidence level, Blackburn said: "I mean, obviously it's not too high right now. The way things are going, it's going to be hard for anybody to have confidence, but I'm just going to try to have a short memory and shake off this whole second half."

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Blackburn (8-8) made two starts on the Twins' 2-4 homestand against Kansas City and Cleveland -- the bottom two teams in the AL Central -- and both were disasters.

On Tuesday, he lasted one inning and gave up six runs, four earned, in a 14-6 loss to the Royals. He returned to form Sunday -- for the first two innings, retiring Cleveland's first six batters.

Today's game

Who: Minnesota at Texas.

When: 7:05 p.m.

TV/radio: FSN (GF Channel 28); KNOX (1310 AM).

Starting pitchers: Minnesota, Francisco Liriano (5-11); Texas, Tommy Hunter (5-2).

The Twins grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second, with two of those coming on Delmon Young's homer off Aaron Laffey (7-3).

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Blackburn lost that lead in eight pitches.

Kelly Shoppach and Luis Valbuena opened the third inning with back-to-back home runs. Blackburn hit Cleveland's No. 9 hitter, Andy Marte, with a pitch, and Grady Sizemore followed with a two-run shot into the right-field upper deck.

"I made bad pitches, didn't execute any of them, and that's what happens," Blackburn said. "With Marte (who came in batting .182), I was just trying stand him back up, so I could go back to work, and I couldn't even do that."

The first two innings had given the Twins hope.

"His ball was sinking, he was jamming everybody, and all of a sudden he fell apart," Gardenhire said. "We scored three, and maybe he started trying to overthrow the ball, do a little too much. But he started pulling off the ball, whatever, he just couldn't get it to sink anymore."

The Twins bullpen stopped the scoring, and the offense had chances. Laffey loaded the bases with three walks in the fourth before Young grounded into an inning-ending double play. Orlando Cabrera grounded into two double plays, finishing 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.

The Twins wound up losing the series, just as they had against the Royals.

"By no means did we look past them," right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "We didn't ride in here thinking we were going to just walk over these guys."

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And really, why should they? The Twins are closer in the standings to Cleveland (five games) than they are to the first-place Tigers (six games).

Today's game

Who: Minnesota at Texas.

When: 7:05 p.m.

TV/radio: FSN (GF Channel 28); KNOX (1310 AM).

Starting pitchers: Minnesota, Francisco Liriano (5-11); Texas, Tommy Hunter (5-2).

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