MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After a 15-3 thumping by the Tampa Bay Rays in the first game of a doubleheader, Michael Cuddyer challenged his Minnesota Twins teammates to start playing with more fire and energy.
The message didn’t hit home in time for the nightcap.
Ben Zobrist hit a two-run homer to give him 10 RBIs for the day and Jeff Niemann carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning as Tampa Bay swept the day-night doubleheader with a 6-1 victory Thursday night.
“We’re not playing with some fire,” Cuddyer said after the first game. “We’ve got to play with some fire. We’ve got to play with some emotion. Right now we’re not.”
The punchless Twins made life easy on Niemann (1-3), who needed just 64 pitches to get through six hitless innings.
Denard Span led off the seventh with a soft single to break up Niemann’s no-hit bid and Justin Morneau added an RBI single for the slumping Twins.
Anthony Swarzak (0-1), recalled from Triple-A Rochester for an emergency start, gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
The Twins dropped all three games in the series, getting outscored by a combined 29-6.
“When it’s 15-3 it’s hard to have a lot of fire in the dugout,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after the night game. “There’s not going to be many pompoms when you’re getting your (rear end) kicked.”
Cuddyer had two hits, including his third home run of the season in the first game, but Zobrist set a Rays record with eight RBIs in the 15-3 rout. He went 7 for 10 with two homers and three doubles in the two games.
With Joe Mauer, Delmon Young and Tsuyoshi Nishioka on the disabled list and Jim Thome (oblique) unavailable, the Twins trotted out a lineup that included Matt Tolbert (.189), Drew Butera (.135) and Rene Tosoni, who was playing in his second big league game, for the nightcap.
“The guys we have here, we’ve got to pick it up,” Span said. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to pick each other up and try to rally. This is the situation we’re faced with so there’s no sense in pouting.”
Zobrist and John Jaso homered in the night game for Tampa Bay.
“Unfortunately for us, we did nothing,” Gardenhire said. “No offense. We got pounded in the first game and it just kind of carried over. Guys were trying in the dugout, trying to pick each other up and hooting and hollering, but their pitcher shut us down. That doesn’t make for a good night.”
The Twins thought they had turned the corner after sweeping a pair of home games last weekend against AL Central-leading Cleveland.
“Throughout the whole game,” Cuddyer said. “On the bench as well, we just don’t have that fire right now. I wish I had the answer. We’ve got to get back out there and play hard. I think that’s the only way.”
Jeremy Hellickson (2-2) pitched 6 1-3 innings for the victory in the opener. Twins starter Nick Blackburn (1-4) was chased in the fourth.
“I just couldn’t throw strikes,” Blackburn said. “Everything I was throwing was going straight in the dirt. It was just one of those days. It’s not very often I have to try to convince myself to get the ball up. I couldn’t find the strike zone today.”
Blackburn stumbled through 3 1-3 innings. He allowed seven runs, five earned, and gave up eight hits and four walks.
The walks might be the biggest concern for the Twins. Perennially among the stingiest teams in handing out free passes, they’ve had control trouble all season. Tampa Bay walked 16 times in the series.
“They look pretty good,” Span said. “That’s a straight, old-fashioned beat-down. They came in here and put it to us.”
NOTES: Joe Nathan, demoted from his closer role earlier in the season, put together his second straight sharp outing with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. … Tosoni made his major league debut and singled to right field in his first at-bat in the first game. The left fielder finished with two hits and an RBI after being called up from Rochester. … The Twins optioned Swarzak back to Rochester after the game and recalled RHP Alex Burnett to help an overworked bullpen.
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