Twins' pitching fails to contain Cards

By Allen LaMountain

   JOHNSON CITY -- It's still early in the season, but if Twins pitchers continue to throw the way they did in Johnson City, they will have to be tagged with the warning label: Extremely Flammable.
   On Thursday night at Cardinal Park, the Elizabethton Twins built a 4-1 lead, and it was all downhill from there as the Johnson City Cardinals registered a 13-6 win.
   "It's tough enough to get three outs in this game, and we are giving them five or six outs," said Twins manager Ray Smith. "When the pitcher is struggling and you are in a position to make a play and you don't, that's a bad combination."
   The Twins made four errors on the night and 'Betsy pitchers surrendered six unearned runs as the Twins kicked the ball all over Cardinal Park. In three games, Twins pitching has given up 27 runs, with eight of those being unearned as the defense has proven very shaky so far.
   "In baseball there are three main things you have to do," continued Smith. "Hitting, pitching and defense. You can get away with doing two of those things well. If you hit well and play defense, you're okay. If you pitch well and play good defense, you're okay. But when you don't do two of those three things well, you won't win much."
   Trent Oeltjen opened the game with a bunt single, but that was erased on a 6-4-3 double-play off the bat of Felix Molina. Garrett Guzman then walked and scored on a single by Dusty Goman.
   Johnson City got that run back quickly as Jeff Tolotti tripled after leadoff man Matt Lemanczyk was plunked by Twins starter Nick Blackburn.
   Blackburn wasn't particularly sharp in his mound stint lasting just three and one-third innings. Blackburn gave up five runs (all earned) on 10 hits while striking out seven and issuing just one free pass.
   Molina's two-run homer in the second frame (his second round-tripper in two games) saw 'Betsy take a 4-1 lead that Blackburn quickly gave right back to the Cards.
   Jose Nolasco had an RBI double as did Tolotti as the Cards made it a 4-4 contest after two frames. Tolotti finished his biggest day as a pro at 6-for-6, and lacked only a homer for the cycle.
   "I didn't want to swing for the fences with the game still close," said Tolotti. "But it crossed my mind in the later innings, and in fact, I tried for it in my last at-bat."
   Johnson City sent Blackburn to the showers in the fourth after having scored a run in the third to take a 5-4 lead. Tolotti hit a one-out single and Terry Evans singled to put runners on the corners and Smith went to the bullpen and summoned lefty Jared Hemus to close out the frame.
   Hemus worked well for one and two-thirds frames, but in the sixth Johnson City struck for four runs as the Cards hit well in the clutch and Betsy simply fell asleep defensively.
   "We just weren't focused on the defensive side of the ball," said Smith. "We have a few holes in the bow to plug up, but these guys have ability. It's up to them to show what they have."
   Hemus gave up four runs (one earned) in two and two-thirds innings, giving up six hits and striking out one, but is struggling in getting behind in the count on batters.
   "It's one thing to throw 94 mph, but if it's straight you are going to get racked," Smith said. "You have to hit your spots and put a little bend to it (to have success)."
   Meanwhile, Cardinals reliever Jonathan Estes pitched well after coming into the game in the sixth. Estes pitched three frames giving up one run on four hits to hold the Twins in check.
   "Estes did a heck of a job tonight," said Cardinals manager Brain Rupp. "Tonight we were able to make some plays that we didn't last night. But you will have games like those every now and then."
   The Cardinals improved to 2-1 on the young season, while 'Betsy falls to 1-2. Rupp was pleased with the way his guys rebounded from Wednesday night's 17-7 shelling, saying, "We need to get some games like this under our belts. I like the way we bounced back from a rough game like the last one."
   E-Twins notes: The team will spend the weekend in Princeton for a three-game set with the Devil Rays before their home opener on Monday against Pulaski. The Twins look like they will score a lot of runs this season, as they have a solid hitting lineup, but the jury is still out on the pitching and defense.