Blast it all

Tribune staff reporter

Poor performances by the White Sox's starting pitchers necessitated the trade for reliever Mike MacDougal from Kansas City in an effort to shorten their workload.

But that didn't cure Javier Vazquez's persistent middle-inning woes, which recurred Monday night in a 7-4 loss to Minnesota that further wounded the Sox's status in the American League Central and appears destined to accelerate general manager Ken Williams' pursuit of help.

For the second time in as many starts, Vazquez's five scoreless innings evaporated. He was hindered again by his failure to retire batters the third time through the order.

Michael Cuddyer's two-run homer and Justin Morneau's solo shot erased a two-run lead in the sixth, and Vazquez was pulled after surrendering a single to Jason Tyner and a double to Jason Bartlett to start the seventh.

Opponents are batting .381 against Vazquez (9-6) after the second time in the batting order. The hits by Tyner and Bartlett set up Joe Mauer's three-run homer off left-hander Neal Cotts with two out in the seventh.

Cotts was warming up when Vazquez began the sixth, but manager Ozzie Guillen stuck with his starter after the Twins collected only three hits through the first five innings.

Nevertheless, the Sox fell a season-high 7½ games behind first-place Detroit in the AL Central and lead Minnesota by only two games. As a result of their 2-8 record since the All-Star break, the Sox lead the Yankees by 1½ games in the wild-card race.

Vazquez hasn't pitched more than six innings in any of his last eight starts, but he hasn't been the sole problem. The Sox scored three runs or fewer for the sixth time since the All-Star break, thus fueling Williams' search for offensive help such as Washington's Alfonso Soriano.

Vazquez remained baffled by his sixth-inning blues.

"If I'm going out there with nothing, I'll be the first to say, 'Wow, I got nothing,'" Vazquez said. "But I'm feeling good. And that's why I'm so frustrated."

The Sox took a 2-0 lead on home runs by Paul Konerko in the fourth and Juan Uribe in the fifth. But Scott Podsednik was stranded after hitting a two-out double in the third, and Brian Anderson didn't score after doubling with no outs in the fifth.

The Sox failed to put a runner in scoring position in the final four innings against starter Brad Radke (9-7) and relievers Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes and Kyle Lohse, though Anderson hit a two-run homer with two out in the ninth off Lohse.

It has become a disturbing trend for a team that batted .316 with runners in scoring position in the first half. The Sox are batting .175 in those situations in their last 10 games and .191 over their last 12.

The Sox's downfall Monday began when Nick Punto started the sixth with a single. With one out, Cuddyer launched a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a game-tying homer.

Vazquez has given up three home runs in the sixth innings of his last two starts.

The Sox remained close in the seventh after Uribe threw home to nail Tyner at home plate for the second out in a call that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire angrily protested.

But Mauer ripped a 3-1 pitch over the center-field fence.

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