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Updated: March 11th, 2012 3:51pm
Notebook: Blackburn plans to work inside; Span out with neck stiffness

Notebook: Blackburn plans to work inside; Span out with neck stiffness

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his official 2012 Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, Minnesota Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn threw three scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, with some help from Joe Benson and Alexi Casilla teaming up to gun down a base runner at home plate.

Not a bad start to the spring, especially when coupled with Blackburn's first (unofficial) multiple-inning spring outing came last week in a 'B' game against the Boston Red Sox. In that outing, the right-hander -- now working from the middle of the rubber -- struck out four and induced three groundballs in two scoreless innings of work.

Blackburn classified Sunday's start as being "not as good" as the 'B' game outing, adding that he battled his mechanics a bit more than he would have liked.

But all in all, his surgically-repaired forearm feels fine, his stuff has "power sink" early in spring, as manager Ron Gardenhire described it, and he's attempting to work inside to hitters more frequently.

"That's kind of what I was trying to get into last year before I got hurt," Blackburn said. "I just kind of noticed that the more you can come in and crowd, the more you can get away with. I think I was talking about that my last outing. It buys you mistakes whenever you're making guys uncomfortable inside. If they continue to see sinker after sinker away, they're going to start looking out there. A guy can look in on you, but if you're getting it in there well enough it's going to be tough for him to do much to it."

Facing a Yankees' lineup that included Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez, Blackburn threw 41 pitches (28 strikes), struck out one, hit a batter, and induced four groundballs out of 10 in play (three liners, three flies).

One of his only mistakes was trying to work a cutter inside to Francisco Cervelli, who hammered it up the middle for a hit.

"I felt like I made a decent pitch to him, but he got his hands on it," Blackburn said. "He's right on top of the plate, so you'd think you'd be able to crowd him, but he did a good job."

Blackburn has made it clear his main goal is to throw 200 innings this season, which is a goal predicated on health, mostly, and also his ability (or inability) to induce weak contact.

And the latter might be predicated on pitching inside.

"There's always been those guys in the past that word gets out they're a guy that'll pitch in, and that's just something that's going to be more effective," Blackburn said. "It ought to buy me more groundballs, it ought to hopefully make me a more effective pitcher and use less pitches."

Today's result

Twins 5, Yankees 1

• Twins' spring record: 5-5

• Home runs by Joe Benson, Danny Valencia and Mike Hollimon put the Twins up 1-0, 2-1 and 5-1, respectively. Those three home runs equaled the Twins' total through the first nine games combined.

Justin Morneau singled to right field and walked in three plate appearances.

Joe Mauer went 0-for-3 with a lineout to short. He will DH in Monday's game at Port Charlotte.

Health report

• OF Denard Span was scratched from Sunday's lineup with a stiff neck, and he is considered day-to-day. General manager Terry Ryan wanted to make it clear Span's stiff neck has nothing to do with the concussion and/or vestibular symptoms he has battled off and on. "I don't think there's anything other than just a little stiffness. If this is the biggest injury we have to worry about all spring we're in good shape. This has nothing to do with any of that (concussion stuff). ... Let's not make it into something it's not."

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka was scheduled to play in Monday's game at Port Charlotte, but he is now day-to-day with a strained left pinky. General manager Terry Ryan said Nishioka hurt it while applying a tag in Saturday's game.

• RHP Kyle Gibson continues to progress at minor league camp after undergoing Tommy John surgery six months ago. He's scheduled to throw from 75 feet this week, and his first bullpen session will take place on June 7.

• RHP Anthony Slama is also working out at minor league camp, coming off forearm issues in 2011. Slama said he feels healthy and hopes to make a brief appearance at major league camp sometime later in the month. Slama, 28, pitched 20 innings in the Mexican Winter League for the Mazatlan Venados this offseason. He owns a career 2.08 ERA and 387 strikeouts in 286 minor league innings.

Numbers game

9: First-pitch strikes for Blackburn out of the 12 hitters he faced.

8-4-2: Joe Benson to Alexi Casilla to Joe Mauer to cut down a baserunner at home who was trying to score from first base on a Curtis Granderson double in the third inning.

Overheard

"It's called Jim Thome getting loud. We're getting loud. That's our new theory in hitting, we're going to start getting loud. We'll see what happens. (Rick Anderson) doesn't like it."
-- Gardenhire, on the three-HR outburst by the Twins

On deck

Monday: @ Rays, 12:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano vs. RHP James Shields
Tuesday: vs. Blue Jays, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. LHP Brett Cecil
Wednesday: @ Phillies, 12:05 p.m. RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Roy Halladay

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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