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Updated: April 15th, 2012 11:51am
Notebook: Blackburn could still make his next start; Burnett to stay?

Notebook: Blackburn could still make his next start; Burnett to stay?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- An MRI Saturday showed no significant damage to the shoulder of Minnesota Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn, which is good news for a starting rotation that has already taken multiple lumps through the season's first two weeks.

But now the Twins, and Blackburn, are in wait-and-see mode.

General manager Terry Ryan said "All indications are (Blackburn) is going to be OK" to make his next start on Thursday in New York, "But we're certainly going to be cautious."

A team source described the injury as a cramp on Saturday, and rather than attempt to work through it Blackburn left with a trainer in the sixth inning after throwing 79 pitches.

Blackburn is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday. If all goes well, he'll likely just stay in his scheduled Thursday slot. If something goes wrong, the Twins do need to make room for Jason Marquis to rejoin the 25-man roster by Wednesday, so a DL move could be in play. Otherwise the Twins would likely send a reliever to Triple-A Rochester.

"We've got a little flexibility here to make sure he's 100 percent," Ryan said. "We're not going to put him out there unless he's ready to go and 100 percent."

Twins would like to keep Duensing in bullpen

With Liam Hendriks starting Sunday and Marquis set to go Wednesday, the Twins will have already checked off seven starting pitchers on their depth chart, including the injured Scott Baker and Anthony Swarzak, who will likely move back to the bullpen at some point.

If an eighth starter is needed at some point, Brian Duensing would seem to be a logical choice. But manager Ron Gardenhire is hoping that isn't the case. He and pitching coach Rick Anderson prefer Duensing as a late-inning reliever.

Duensing's velocity is up so far this season. His average fastball is just a tick over 92 mph, sometimes touching mid-90's, as opposed to a 91 mph fastball when he was a starter.

He has allowed two earned runs on two hits in three innings, striking out three and walking two.

Duensing, Glen Perkins and closer Matt Capps are the primary late-inning relievers right now. Behind them, the totem pole is turned sideways.

"We're kind of mixing around guys and trying to see who we think would (fit)," Gardenhire said. "(Jared) Burton threw the ball really good the other day. He hasn't really spun a lot of baseballs (curves) all through spring, coming off the arm (injury) and everything. ... But the ball was really jumping out of his hand. So we're still getting a feel for it. ...

"We're not going to force-feed anything. We just like to have options. When you don't want to kill one guy you have to be able to go to another. We think Duensing can do that, along with Perkins. We can use Duensing in some of those situations to kind of give Perk a little bit of a break, and Burton also. (Matt) Maloney, he can handle righties and lefties. He can take a little bit off the ball and (has) a great changeup."

On Saturday, Duensing came in to replace the injured Blackburn in the sixth inning. He retired the side, then ran into trouble in the seventh, putting two men on base. Right-hander Jeff Gray was summoned, with two outs and the game still tied 1-1, and he was greeted with back-to-back RBI singles by Adrian Beltre and Michael Young.

"Gray threw too many balls down the middle of the plate yesterday," Gardenhire said. "These guys are really aggressive hitters, and you have to recognize that. He didn't recognize it very well yesterday."

Gray's track record doesn't suggest he'd have much success against a potent lineup in a high-leverage situation, such as the one he was in Saturday. In 91 2/3 career major league innings, Gray owns a 4.42 ERA with only 5.1 strikeouts per nine and 3.2 walks per nine. Rangers hitters were likely to make contact, as they did.

Burnett to stick around?

Right-hander Alex Burnett is an interesting case right now as well. He was essentially gifted a roster spot after a horrible spring training due to the pitcher injury situation (Baker, Marquis and Kyle Waldrop were all unable to pitch).

But Burnett has pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings to start the season, striking out three and walking only one. Two weeks ago, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion he'd be the odd man out once the Twins returned to a five-man starting rotation.

That might not be the case anymore.

"If he keeps throwing," Gardenhire said. "He didn't have a good spring, and he's actually thrown better once the season started, which we were hoping. ... He has to continue the process. Right now we'd probably rather use him in the sixth or seventh. ...

"If we keep him on the right track he can help us."

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.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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