Cleveland's Franklin Gutierrez, bottom, tries unsuccessfully to disrupt Minnesota's Nick Punto on his throw for a double play.
Jim Mone / AP Enlarge
MINNEAPOLIS - The Cleveland Indians stayed in their hitting slump, and Nick Blackburn had plenty to do with keeping them there.
Justin Morneau hit a two-run homer for the power-poor Minnesota Twins, and Blackburn made it stand up with 72/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over the Indians yesterday.
"I felt we put up some good at-bats, the type of at-bats where you wouldn't expect a zero to be up there," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "But that's the way it played out."
Blackburn (1-1), who hit one batter and gave up eight hits without a walk, earned his first major league win.
He used his sinker to induce four inning-ending double-play grounders, including two by David Dellucci.
"There were so many ridiculous plays," said Blackburn.
Dennys Reyes recorded the last out of the eighth, and Joe Nathan posted his sixth save in as many attempts with a perfect ninth.
Morneau took Jake Westbrook (1-2) deep with two outs in the first inning for his fifth homer and a 2-0 lead, the beginning of a sound formula for victory over a struggling team.
The defending AL Central champions have a league-low .239 average, and designated hitter Travis Hafner - despite 12 RBIs - dropped to .227 with an 0-for-4 afternoon that included a double play and a strikeout.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," Westbrook said. "We just need to continue to try to be more consistent. We're up and down in different areas. Right now the offense is struggling a little bit. I definitely didn't come out strong."
Westbrook walked one and struck out four, surrendering eight hits and those three runs in seven innings. After Morneau's home run, which cleared the tall right-field wall by a few inches, Westbrook had three 1-2-3 innings and retired 11 of 12 in one stretch. Carlos Gomez's two-out single down the left-field line in the second inning was the only other damage done.
The Twins have been quite pleased with their starting pitching, despite Francisco Liriano's trouble. Blackburn made the rotation because Liriano needed more time in the minors, but with a 2.49 ERA and 251/3 innings in four starts he'll be hard to move out of the rotation.
"It doesn't look like he gets rattled too much," manager Ron Gardenhire said, adding: "We liked him last year, and I think his progression is getting better and better."
It helps to have good glovework in the field.
Shortstop Nick Punto, playing in place of the injured Adam Everett, was the pivot man on all four double plays.
Morneau did a pretty good job of stretching for those second outs at first base himself, and he made a hockey-goalie glove save of Dellucci's hot chop in the seventh to start the fourth double play.
Also, a perfect throw by left fielder Delmon Young helped preserve the shutout. Casey Blake singled in the third, but Cabrera was out at the plate trying to score from second when the ball one-hopped to catcher Joe Mauer's glove.
Now, the Twins must find a way to hit a few balls a little further. Jason Kubel, who has three home runs, is the only other player beside Morneau who has homered in 18 games this season. Minnesota entered the game with a .348 slugging percentage, lowest in the league.
If the other guys don't get their power stroke going, well, Morneau is usually good for it.
NOTES: The Indians, who went 14-4 against the Twins last season, had an eight-game winning streak against Minnesota end. ... Hafner, who has a sore right shoulder, will probably be out of the lineup to rest today and get two days off with a scheduled off-day tomorrow.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.