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Updated: August 7th, 2011 12:53pm
Notebook: Blackburn could be on thin ice; is 3B in Mauer's future?

Notebook: Blackburn could be on thin ice; is 3B in Mauer's future?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It was right around this time last season when Minnesota Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn lost his starting rotation spot and hopped a flight to Triple-A Rochester after suffering through a miserable July stretch.

There will be no Triple-A demotion this time around, but déjà vu has set in for Blackburn and the Twins. After seeing his ERA dipped to 3.15 on June 22, the sinkerballer owns an 8.15 ERA in eight starts, including 19 walks, 65 hits allowed and seven home runs given up in 38 2/3 innings. Over that stretch, opponents are hitting .376/.436/.601 against the right-hander.

Only one American League pitcher -- Carl Pavano (177) -- has allowed more hits than Blackburn on the season (165).

That's not good enough.

Even so, manager Ron Gardenhire told 1500 ESPN on Sunday that Blackburn will make his next scheduled start against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

"Nicky's been our guy, and he's been our big pitcher guy in a lot of big games," Gardenhire said. "He was a little bit better, but he'll tell you, he's got to throw the ball over the plate."

If Blackburn struggles again -- which is a distinct possibility, considering the Red Sox have the best offense in baseball -- Gardenhire said "we'd have to make some kind of adjustment" to the rotation.

Should the Twins shuffle things, right-hander Kevin Slowey is "definitely an option," Gardenhire said, but not the first option.

"The one guy who has been throwing well if we were to make an adjustment and do something would be (Anthony Swarzak)," Gardenhire said. "Swarzy's really been throwing the ball very, very good, and if you have to make a move you do that."

Slowey has been pitching for Triple-A Rochester since July 5, with the majority of his seven starts coming as part of a lengthy rehab assignment. In his last outing, Slowey threw more than 100 pitches in five innings, but he allowed only two earned runs on seven hits and two walks. In his previous start, Slowey allowed only one run (zero earned) and five baserunners in eight innings, striking out eight and walking nobody.

Swarzak, who owns a 3.20 ERA in 59 innings, has excelled in a number of different roles for the Twins this season, including throwing five scoreless innings in relief of Scott Baker in Anaheim last week.

"(Slowey) is throwing the ball good," Gardenhire said. "It's coming out of his hand, he's healthy. We all know the situation; you can't use him out of the bullpen, so it's a starting role or not. He's definitely an option. It's one of those situations where if we had to do something we could definitely think about him and put him in there. ...

"Our first choice would be Swarzak, because he's throwing the ball so well."

Morneau back soon

Gardenhire believes first baseman Justin Morneau could rejoin the team in Detroit early next week, or when the Twins return home late next week.

"That would give him nine or 10 games," Gardenhire said. "He's definitely already talked about his offseason program, and trying to figure out a program where he can come into spring training healthy ... He's a hard worker, we all know that. The guy really gets after it. ...

"I want to see how he gets through this year and finishes out the rest of this year, then we'll know a little more about how it's going to happen heading into next year."

Mauer at third base?

With Morneau's return imminent, it might be more difficult for Gardenhire to move Joe Mauer out from behind the plate.

Since making his debut at first base in early July, Mauer has played 15 games at catcher and 10 games at first base heading into Sunday.

When asked on 1500 ESPN Sunday if Mauer could eventually play a position other than catcher or first base, Gardenhire said, "It would take work. He would have to sit back and think about it and try to figure out what would be the best position for him other than first base in a situation that would make it easiest on him, whether it would be an outfield position, third base, whatever."

People within the organization believe Mauer is athletic enough and talented enough to handle third base, which is currently occupied by Danny Valencia.

"You'd just have to look at your needs and see where you're at," Gardenhire said. "Joe will tell you, he's a catcher. We talked about it yesterday, and he knows this first base thing is a reprieve off his legs when he's a little beat-up, and he realizes that this is a good thing for him. ...

"He wants to catch. He's still a catcher, and he'll tell you that straight out. And he believes next year he's going to be the full-time catcher, and you go from there. But to find places and give him a reprieve, with Morneau back in the lineup, we're going to have to try to figure something out. And I'll talk with Joe about that eventually and see what we can do to try and keep everybody's bat in the lineup."

600 at home?

Jim Thome's quest for 600 career home runs is nearly complete, as the 40-year-old masher currently sits on 598.

Gardenhire said he will do everything in his power to make sure that milestone is reached at Target Field.

"I think our fans really need to see this," the manager said. "I would love it. Unfortunately, we could end up on the road, and I'm not going to not play him on the road. But I really hope that something happens here in the next ... I'm going to try to play him as much as I can. I've got night games coming against Boston.

"I think they're going to throw a couple lefties at him, but I'm going to try to keep him in there. As long as his back will hold up, his body holds up, I'm going to try to keep him playing."

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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