Minors work pays off majorly for Blackburn

Minors work pays off majorly for Blackburn

ARLINGTON -- When Nick Blackburn was sent down to Triple-A Rochester a little less than a month ago, he took the approach that perhaps this was the best thing for him.

His struggles, a 1-6 record with a 9.88 ERA in nine starts after June 1, had led to his removal from the Twins' rotation in mid-July. And while he originally was moved into the club's bullpen, the feeling within the organization was that Blackburn needed the opportunity to pitch on a regular basis in the Minors in order to get his sinker back and to regain some confidence.

"It was kind of a relief to go down there and work on some stuff," Blackburn said of his stint in Rochester. "I went down there and was excited to go to work and just pitch with no pressure. I think going down there with that attitude was what I needed to have happen, and I think it probably paid off."

Following Blackburn's first start back with the Twins on Monday night, it certainly looked like that was the case.

The right-hander gave up three earned runs on eight hits over seven innings to the Rangers. Blackburn's strong outing was overshadowed in the contest thanks to the near no-hit effort by the Texas pitching staff, but the results clearly were a positive for a pitcher that the Twins believe is a big part of their future.

The reports from Rochester had been that Blackburn had regained his sinker while going 1-0 with a 2.49 ERA in four Triple-A starts, and he had the pitch working for him against Texas. He recorded 11 groundouts while having just three flyouts -- a sign that the pitch had started to regain its natural movement.

"I was battling my mechanics a little bit and I was trying to make things happen," Blackburn said. "Once I went down [to Rochester], I relied a lot on that sinker, just trying to move it around and try to get outs with it. I think that's kind of what happened. I think [Monday night], my sinker was the best it's been up here so far this season."

Blackburn pitched better on Monday night than even his stats indicated. He gave up two first-inning runs after a botched play on ground ball hit by Josh Hamilton with two outs kept the inning alive. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that second baseman Orlando Hudson played too far back on the play, allowing Hamilton to beat out the infield hit. The Rangers took advantage of the break when David Murphy hit a two-run triple.

"We didn't make a play," Gardenhire said. "That was disappointing because it cost us two runs early, and Blackie threw too well for that."

The last run that Blackburn allowed in the game came in the fifth, when shortstop J.J. Hardy skipped a throw past Michael Cuddyer at first on what should have been an inning-ending double play. And the poor throw resulted in another run scoring.

Still, it was Blackburn's first quality start for the Twins since June 12, and only the second he had thrown following a fantastic month of May, when he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, putting himself in the running for AL Pitcher of the Month. So while the final result wasn't what the Twins had hoped for against the Rangers, there were plenty of positives for Blackburn to take from his first outing back with Minnesota.

"Just to go out and compete was big for me," Blackburn said. "To be able to execute everything I was executing while I was in Rochester was good. I was able to keep my nerves under control and just go out and do what I've been doing for the last couple weeks."