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Updated: March 25th, 2012 3:52pm
Notebook: Is it possible Blackburn's spring success is not a mirage?

Notebook: Is it possible Blackburn's spring success is not a mirage?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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JUPITER, Fla. -- Aside from a two-run homer allowed to Matt Holliday in the fourth inning, Minnesota Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn continued his solid spring on Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In five innings, Blackburn allowed two runs on only two hits, striking out five and walking one. Blackburn lowered his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.50, and if his two "B"-game innings from March 7 are included, he has 13 strikeouts and only two walks in 14 total innings.

Solid numbers, but they don't tell the whole story.

Of Blackburn's 200 pitches this spring, opponents have swung 79 times and they've come up empty 27% of the time.

That 73% contact rate is entirely different than Blackburn's 89% career rate -- a rate that ranked him as the most hittable starting pitcher in baseball from 2007 to 2011.

By comparison, Francisco Liriano (74%), Jason Marquis (84%) and Carl Pavano (87%) are right in line with their career contact rates this spring.

Small sample sizes? Absolutely.

But even in a small sample size, Blackburn's effectiveness is worth monitoring.

"I definitely am noticing it," Blackburn said. "I was asking (Ryan) Doumit afterwards if the stuff is actually moving or not; a lot of times I don't actually see it. And he said it was (moving) late, which is a good indication. It's definitely a good sign that they're not making contact with everything. It just kind of shows that it is the late movement we've been looking for, and this spring that's been pretty consistent."

Blackburn credits his recent success to a combination of health -- coming off forearm surgery in the offseason -- and shifting from the first-base side of the rubber more toward the middle. Blackburn says the new mound position provides a little more deception for hitters.

Even at Blackburn's best back in 2008 and 2009, hitters made contact on 88% of their swings. He posted a combined 4.04 ERA in 399 innings over those two seasons, which the Twins would gladly take again in 2012.

But to what degree will Blackburn's success this spring carry over to the regular season?

"I can't imagine it wouldn't," he said. "I mean, obviously there's going to be times when you struggle mechanically and you're searching for stuff, but as long as we can get back to where I am right now ... And even today wasn't the greatest feeling, but I was able to make good results and make adjustments from pitch to pitch, or at-bat to at-bat. But I couldn't think of a possible reason it wouldn't carry over. ...

He added, "Obviously those guys (the Cardinals), minus (Albert) Pujols, that's who they had last year. So it was good to go out there and see the swings that we were getting and all that stuff."

Blackburn could very well regress back to his old, hittable version. But for now he seems to have found something.

"Only time will tell," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Everything is different during the season. You start facing full lineups on an every-day basis. You've got to do the same thing. You've got to see the results. But his stuff is working. His stuff is diving hard."

Revere OK with Willingham decision

With manager Ron Gardenhire confirming Josh Willingham will be his left fielder, that leaves a trio of players -- Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe -- to compete for playing time, and a starting job, in right field.

With his .300+ batting average this spring, Revere appeared to have the inside track on the starting job in left field before Sunday's announcement.

"Everybody's trying to fight for a spot, and I understand that," Revere said. "Everybody does. So now I get a chance to help out the squad and I'm happy for it, as long as I get the chance to help the team win. But if not, and I have to go to Triple-A or something, I'm just going to work my tail off to get back up here."

Gardenhire made it clear there has been no talk of sending Revere to Rochester to start the season.

Gardenhire also downplayed Revere's lack of arm strength as a hindrance in right field, but it's likely baserunners would be more willing to run from first to third on base hits.

"I'll tell you the truth, I don't know what the difference is," Revere said, "but every time I get a throw in right, it seems like it's on the money all the time, it's like one hop. But in left field, it's a totally different story, I have no idea ...

I've been comfortable (in right field) ... and it won't be no different, I'll be out with those guys covering a bunch of ground like they do. The only thing that will be different is maybe the wall at Target Field."

Today's result

Cardinals 9, Twins 2 in Jupiter

Twins' spring record: 13-11

• After going 5-for-5 with a home run and two doubles on Saturday, Luke Hughes homered in his first at-bat Sunday. He finished the game 2-for-3 with two RBIs, raising his spring batting average to .385. Hughes said after the game he'd welcome the chance to be a late-inning pinch hitter if that's the role he wound up filling in.

• OF Aaron Hicks was called up from minor league camp for a day, but he struck out swinging in his only plate appearance.

• Former Twin Kyle Lohse went six innings for the Cardinals, allowing two earned runs on five hits and a walk while striking out six.

Alexi Casilla was unavailable for a couple days due to a family issue, but he went 2-for-5 for Double-A New Britain on Sunday.

Numbers game

13: The length, in minutes, of a short rain delay in the bottom of the sixth inning.

44: The length, in minutes, of a longer rain delay in the bottom of the seventh.

3: The number of Thompsons to appear in spring games for the Twins -- Brad, Aaron and Darryl. Brad Thompson was called up from minor league camp to pitch in Sunday's game.

Health report

• RHP Scott Baker (elbow) is scheduled to start Monday against the Rays. If all goes well, he will continue to ramp up toward 100 pitches for the regular season. He has yet to throw more than 45 in a game.

• OF Trevor Plouffe (hamstring) is expected to take at-bats in a minor league game within the next couple days.

Overheard

"Son of a ... Go high five your editor. Get on that radio and just tweet the (expletive) out of it."
-- Gardenhire, joking with reporters after announcing Willingham would be his left fielder

"I thought I'd hook up a fellow Okie."
-- Blackburn, joking about allowing a home run to Holliday, a fellow Oklahoma native.

"Like my Grandpa said, keep playing your hardest, so they don't have to send you back down."
-- Revere

On deck

Monday: vs. Rays, 12:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker vs. RHP Jeff Niemann
Tuesday: @ Orioles, 12:05 p.m. RHP Anthony Swarzak vs. LHP Tsuyoshi Wada
Wednesday: vs. Phillies, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. TBD

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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