Updated: February 28th, 2011 4:07pm
Live from Florida, Day 12: Healthy Blackburn says arm feels 'newer'

Live from Florida, Day 12: Healthy Blackburn says arm feels 'newer'

by Phil Mackey
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A rundown of the news, notes and quotes from Monday at Minnesota Twins spring training:

Monday's result:

Red Sox 7 (1-1), Twins 6 (1-1)

Catching up with ... Nick Blackburn

Right-hander Nick Blackburn pitched two scoreless innings in his spring-training debut Monday, allowing two hits and inducing four groundouts against a Boston lineup that included mostly starters.

Blackburn threw zero breaking balls, which isn't uncommon for pitchers this early in the spring schedule.

"Stuck to fastball, changeup, which was the plan," Blackburn said. "(Catcher Rene) Rivera asked for one curveball and we ended up going to fastball in. Talking to (pitching coach Rick Anderson), he just wanted to get a feel for the fastball and changeup right now -- get a jump start on those and continue to work on the sides."

Blackburn underwent clean-up surgery last fall to repair his pitching elbow. The right-hander had felt tenderness off and on for two seasons, and the discomfort eventually started to limit the movement on his pitches.

"Last season was the first season that it ever entered my mind," Blackburn said about potential surgery. "It just got to the point where it wasn't comfortable -- to the point where I did feel like something needed to happen."

Even with stretches of worm-killing brilliance, Blackburn suffered through the worst season of his young career last year, posting a 5.42 ERA and 5.07 FIP with 25 home runs allowed in only 161 innings.

Now that his arm feels "newer," Blackburn plans to throw a few more cutters and sliders. The cutter, Blackburn says, is "basically what got me to the Major Leagues."

According to Fangraphs, Blackburn threw his cutter only 10.6% of the time last season, down from 25.6% in 2008 and 20.6% in 2009.

"I'm going to try to get back to the pitch that I had. Over the year it's become a little looser with a little more slider-type action. I'm going to try to tighten it back up ... Hopefully get back to what that pitch used to be."

Who's hot?

• OF Jason Kubel had a monster game on Monday, going 3-for-3 with a home run off the batter's eye in center field against right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka. He later doubled off right-hander Daniel Bard.

• INF Luke Hughes also went deep on Monday -- a three-run bomb off right-hander Michael Bowden. If Hughes doesn't break camp on the 25-man roster, he will likely be one of the first players called-up. The Twins really like his bat, and is capable of playing second base or third base.

Who's not?

• RHP Kevin Slowey gave up a three-run homer to David Ortiz Monday, and he said after the game his pitches felt flat.

"I think for me it's really important to establish a down angle on my pitches," said Slowey, who also walked two and gave up three hits in two innings.

"I talked to (Rick Anderson) afterward a little bit. He said, 'maybe you're over striding a little bit.' At least today. That's part of being excited, being out here for the first time. That's something we'll work on around the 'pen, other wise I felt great, felt healthy, nothing hurts."

Numbers game

14: The number of black spruce trees removed from the batter's eye area at Target Field last week, according to an official press release sent out by the Twins on Monday. Per the release, the trees were transported to Bergen's Greenhouse in Forest Lake, MN. Two trees will eventually be transplanted on Twins Way near the team parking lot, and one will be auctioned online to benefit the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. Another one will be held for a season ticket holder contest, and the other 10 will be donated to the Minnesota State Park system and transplanted within 150 miles of the Twin Cities.

Each tree was marked with an official MLB hologram.

Health watch

• 1B Justin Morneau (concussion) will visit a doctor sometime this week about possibly being cleared for game action, but Gardenhire provided no further update on Monday. It sounds as if the Twins would like to keep things more private with Morneau going forward until he is cleared to play.

• OF Delmon Young (toe), OF Michael Cuddyer (foot) and C Joe Mauer (knee) all did not play in Monday's game. Young will likely play in his first game before the end of the week. Cuddyer and Mauer will likely sit out longer.

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow) fell slightly behind early in camp with some elbow discomfort, specifically on his changeup, but he is scheduled to pitch against the Red Sox on Tuesday.


"Just use his breaking ball more often, spin the ball, which he did out there -- some good ones."
-- Gardenhire, on what LHP Glen Perkins needs to do to be more effective against left-handed batters. Perkins, who is out of options, is fighting for a bullpen spot on the 25-man roster, but left-handed batters have posted an .840 OPS against Perkins in his career, as opposed to an .801 OPS by righties. Perkins pitched a clean fifth inning on Monday, striking out one.

On deck

The Twins will host the Red Sox yet again on Tuesday at Hammond Stadium (noon, 1500 ESPN). Baker is scheduled to face LHP Jon Lester.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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