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Royals' Bannister takes step back in 7-2 loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS | Those encouraging vibes the Royals saw in Brian Bannister’s last three starts thudded to a halt Tuesday night in a 7-2 shellacking by the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.

Bannister failed to last four innings but still surrendered seven runs and 10 hits before departing after Justin Morneau’s two-out, two-run homer in the fourth.

“I didn’t change anything,” Bannister said. “I threw a lot of strikes and stayed aggressive. They didn’t drive a lot of balls. They just seemed to hit them where we weren’t playing all night.”

It was, by any measure, a depressing setback after Bannister appeared close to recapturing his 2007 form by holding opponents to seven earned runs in 21 2/3 innings over his last three starts.

The one common denominator in all four games: Bannister took the loss. He is now 0-9 with four no-decisions since June 23 and 7-15 overall.

“He was throwing strikes,” manager Trey Hillman said, “but they weren’t well-located. The home run was on an 0-2 count when he tried to come in and left it out over the plate.

“You can’t do that, especially in this ballpark.”

Bannister’s problems started immediately when Denard Span yanked a leadoff hopper past first for a double in the first inning. The Twins scored one run in the first, two in the second, one in the third and three in the fourth.

Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn entered the game winless five starts since Aug. 6 and gave up runs in the second and third innings. But he settled into a groove once Minnesota began pulling away.

“He’s tough when he’s able to sink it and cut it,” outfielder David DeJesus said. “They’re pitchers are all like that. They get ahead of you and make you swing at their stuff.”

Blackburn, 10-8, allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings before Dennys Reyes and Jesse Crain closed out the victory. Blackburn threw 70 strikes in 97 pitches.

The Twins had 13 hits in a balanced attack that included at least one from every starter except Joe Mauer, who contributed RBIs with a grounder and a sacrifice fly. Span and Brian Buscher each had three hits.

“They did a great job of hitting situationally,” said Bannister, who was 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in five previous career starts against the Twins. “When I threw good pitches, they fouled them off. When they did put the ball in play, they always found holes.”

The victory enabled the Twins to climb to within one game of first-place Chicago in the American League Central Division. Minnesota was 2½ games back when the day started, but the White Sox lost both games of a double-header to Toronto.

Both teams have 18 games remaining. The Royals’ factor: Three games left at Chicago; five left at Minnesota, including the season’s final three games.

The loss dropped the Royals to 61-82, which is notable in that it clinched a fifth straight losing season and a 13th losing season in 14 years.

José Guillen had three of the Royals’ six hits and produced his 87th RBI with a double in the third inning. That’s the most RBIs by a Royals player since 2003, when Carlos Beltran had 100 and Raul Ibañez had 90.

The Royals got their other run on Miguel Olivo’s 12th homer, a one-out drive in the second inning. Looking for a silver lining? John Bale, Jimmy Gobble, Kip Wells and Devon Lowery combined for 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

That’s two scoreless innings for Lowery since he arrives after compiling a 1.87 ERA in 40 appearances at Class AAA Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

Span opened the Minnesota first with that bouncer past first for a double. He went to third on Alexi Casilla’s sacrifice and scored on Mauer’s grounder to first.

The Royals got even on Olivo’s homer of the season, a one-out drive on a slider in the second inning that had just enough carry to clear the wall in left-center field.

It didn’t stay tied long.

Buscher started a two-run second inning with a one-out single and went to third on Nick Punto’s double. Buscher scored on Carlos Gomez’s sacrifice fly to left before Span lined a two-out single into center.

The Royals got one run back in the third on Guillen’s two-out RBI double, but Bannister gave it right back despite retiring the first two hitters in the Minnesota third. Delmon Young reached on a high turf-hop single and scored when Buscher drove a full-count fastball into the right-center gap for an RBI double.

“Delmon’s ball,” Bannister said, “I threw a good pitch to him and the ball bounced straight up in the air. It was that kind of night for me.”

To reach Bob Dutton, call 816-234-4352 or send e-mail to bdutton@kcstar.com.

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