MINNEAPOLIS -- Time away from baseball is not something that Nick Blackburn necessarily wanted. But with a family issue taking place back home, the Twins right-hander left his club for a long weekend at the end of last month. It turned out to perhaps be the break that Blackburn needed. At the start of this season, Blackburn was fighting himself on the mound and trying to do too much with his pitches. In four April starts, Blackburn posted a 6.85 ERA and allowed five earned runs in three straight outings. But since returning from his brief stint on the Family Medical Emergency List, Blackburn has gotten on a roll. He's 4-0 in his past four starts (all in May) and has pitched at least seven innings while not allowing more than three runs in each of those outings.
"It may have cleared my mind and helped me to relax," Blackburn said of his time away. "Maybe it took a little focus away from my pitching, and that's what I needed to do. I was thinking too much and trying too much, so it might have been exactly what I needed." As he gets ready to pitch against the Yankees in the series finale on Thursday, Blackburn said that he's finally gotten back to feeling like himself once again. He has worked with pitching coach Rick Anderson in bullpen sessions to throw easier and not try to force movement on his pitches. The right-hander said he believes he got into the bad habit of trying to give movement to his pitches back in Spring Training when his slider wasn't quite working. But without trying to force movement on his pitches, Blackburn has found himself feeling more like he did in previous seasons. His opponents' batting average has gone down this month (.267 in May compared to .347 in April) and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has nearly doubled from last month (from 0.88 to 1.60). The biggest thing for Blackburn, though, has been the way his mechanics feel right now. "I've been able to relax and let my pitches work," Blackburn said. "I still have times in each game when I try to do too much. But I think at this point, I realize what it feels like when I'm trying too hard. I know the adjustments I have to make. I think that's helped me to throw the way I have recently."