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Updated: August 12th, 2012 1:18pm
Notebook: Nick Blackburn 'will be one of our pitchers again next year'

Notebook: Nick Blackburn 'will be one of our pitchers again next year'

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Blackburn's outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night was a mixed bag.

He opened the game by falling behind 3-0 within the first seven pitches without recording an out, prompting a sellout Target Field crowd to shower him with boos. Blackburn then settled down and allowed only one more run while pitching into the seventh inning.

As the Twins head into the home stretch this season, their No. 1 priority is figuring out which starting pitchers are likely to contribute in 2013.

Blackburn has been perhaps the worst starting pitcher in baseball over the past calendar year. Since June 27, 2011 (29 starts), Blackburn owns a 7.22 ERA in 144 2/3 innings, with 215 hits allowed, 28 home runs given up, 66 strikeouts and 52 walks.

Prior to that, Blackburn was a 200-inning workhorse in 2008 and 2009, and he was one of the Twins' most consistent starters for the first three months of 2011.

The right-hander has battled numerous injury issues over the past few seasons, and he is finally healthy this season -- but mostly ineffective.

A lot of teams would have cut bait by now on a pitcher struggling as badly as Blackburn has, but because he is under contract for $5.5 million next year the Twins will continue their attempt to light the spark.

"He's going to be one of our pitchers," manager Ron Gardenhire in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Sunday. "He'll be one of our pitchers again next year, and we need good outings from him. He's the veteran of this staff now. ...

"Hopefully we'll let him finish out here and he'll get on a bit of a roll and get some wins underneath his belt and get him more confidence."

Draft picks performing well

The Twins have reasons to be optimistic about their top two picks from the June draft.

In five games since his promotion from the Gulf Coast League Twins to Elizabethton, 18-year-old Byron Buxton is hitting .278/.316/.389 with a stolen base, upping his batting line this season to .226/.322/.453 in 121 plate appearances. Buxton, who the Twins selected No. 2 overall in the June draft, also has four home runs, three triples, six doubles and five stolen bases (one caught) this summer.

A low batting average, yes, but respectable numbers in the OBP and SLG departments.

Right-hander J.O. Berrios was promoted to Elizabethton along with Buxton, and the 18-year-old has been nearly untouchable in every outing.

In his first Appalachian League start on Saturday night, Berrios struck out five while allowing only two baserunners in four scoreless innings. He owns a 0.87 ERA in 20 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts, four walks and only eight hits allowed.

Outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia continue to perform well for Double-A New Britain. Hicks, 22, is in the midst of the best season of his minor league career, hitting .282/.383/.459 with 12 home runs, seven triples, 19 doubles, 27 steals (10 caught) and 82 runs in 109 games.

"This is the year that he's pretty much done what people all expected him to do," general manager Terry Ryan said. "He's finally put up those types of numbers, and it's good to see. He's had a good year."

Arcia, 21, went 3-for-3 with a home run and a double on Saturday night, raising his batting line to .319/.389/.533 between High-A Fort Myers and New Britain. Arcia also has 14 home runs, 30 doubles and 78 RBIs.

Of the two, Arcia is most likely to earn a September call-up because he already sits on the 40-man roster. Hicks must be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, so it might make sense to make that move in September and take a closer look at him.

Capps to get another MRI Monday

Right-hander Matt Capps is scheduled to undergo a follow-up MRI on his inflamed shoulder on Monday afternoon. If results come back clean, Capps will start throwing again on Wednesday.

"Barring something drastic or something new, I've got full intentions of pitching in September," said Capps, who has pitched only twice since June 23 due to the shoulder issues.

Capps, who normally throws 92-94 mph, was reaching back for 90 and 91 mph upon returning from his first disabled list stint on July 14.

"I think when I came back (in July) there was still a little inflammation and some stuff in there," Capps said. "I think this time we're erring on the side of caution, taking a little more time and really making sure everything is out of there, hence the MRI tomorrow. To have pictures and really know that everything's out of there before we start throwing. The main objective I guess is to make sure I don't hurt myself worse."

Capps' contract calls for a $6 million team option in 2013, or a $250,000 buyout. It's likely the Twins will buy Capps out, thus sending him into free agency.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't on your mind. It's something you think about," Capps said about his contract status. "It's my career. It's my livelihood. It's my family's livelihood. It's something that's in consideration. Again, I think that's part of being a little more cautious this time around and making sure I'm healthy and everything is structurally sound.

"But if everything goes well tomorrow, I'll start playing catch Wednesday. Some time early September I anticipate being back out there. I haven't seen a hard schedule or anything like that, so it's hard for me to say Aug. 30 or Sept. 5 or anything like that. Just early September is when I'm hoping to be back out there."

More health notes

Trevor Plouffe went 0-for-4 in a rehab game for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday night, but his bruised thumb came out feeling OK.

Carl Pavano (shoulder) is scheduled to throw three innings for High-A Fort Myers on Sunday.

Matt Capps (shoulder) will have a follow-up MRI on Monday.

Anthony Swarzak (shoulder) threw a bullpen session on Sunday.

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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