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Updated: March 6th, 2012 3:14pm
Notebook: Scott Baker's elbow 'so far so good' in hitless spring debut

Notebook: Scott Baker's elbow 'so far so good' in hitless spring debut

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Scott Baker proved in 2011 he can be a top-notch starting pitcher. He can get batters out. That's not an issue.

Baker's elbow has been the main hindrance, dating back to discomfort that led to minor offseason surgery in 2010, and more soreness after the All-Star break last year that limited him to just 134 total innings.

In his official spring training debut Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Baker threw two scoreless, hitless innings in a 3-2 Twins win, and most importantly he has reported no problems with his elbow through the first three weeks of camp.

"You take precautions obviously," Baker said. "There's peace in the fact that you do everything you can to prepare and to prevent injuries. But they do happen. So, you know, that's what I did. I did the best I could to the best of my knowledge. So here we are and so far so good. ...

"I'm just going about my business. I obviously make sure that I do all the preventative stuff. So maybe I do little more than I have in the past, but that's not a bad thing. That's actually a good thing."

The preventative stuff Baker mentions is mostly "strengthening, mobility, different modalities -- whatever," he said. "Just trying to get it nice and loose, nice and warm; just staying on top of it, basically."

Baker threw 23 pitches in his two-inning outing (15 strikes, eight balls), inducing five flyouts and a groundout. He walked one and held the Rays scoreless and hitless.

Of those 15 strikes, six were foul balls, two were looking, one swinging, and the rest put into play on an extremely windy, gusty afternoon.

"I threw a few offspeed pitches, but obviously saw out there that the wind is blowing 100 miles per hour in, and I don't care if it's spring training or not, and you work on things, you'd be crazy not to take advantage of that," Baker said. "So I threw it over. In situations when you've got two strikes, why would you bury a breaking ball and have a guy get a bloop hit instead of throwing a high fastball with a potential of popping it up; there's just not a lot he can do other than pop it up."

Prior to experiencing more elbow discomfort last year, Baker was on pace to set career bests in ERA (3.14), strikeouts per nine innings (8.22), and lowest opponent contact rate (79.6%).

He is a critical piece to any potential turnaround by the Twins in 2012.

Aggressive on base paths

Niemann's pickoff throw sailed into center field, allowing Ben Revere to slide in safely to third base. Behind him, Jamey Carroll aggressively took second when he saw the throw from center fielder Jeff Salazar go to third base.

Revere later scored on a groundout.

"That's instincts," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Carroll's read. "Good instincts on the base paths."

In the third inning, Alexi Casilla singled then stole second base on the first pitch to Revere. Two batters later, Carroll stole second to put runners in scoring position, and both he and Revere would score when shortstop Sean Rodriguez mishandled a flip to second on a hard one-hopper by Danny Valencia.

Blackburn to start 'B' game

With Carl Pavano starting Wednesday's game against the Orioles in Sarasota, Nick Blackburn will hang back at Hammond Stadium and start the 'B' game against the Red Sox.

Having undergone offseason forearm surgery, Blackburn has reported no problems through the first three weeks of camp.

Joe Mauer is scheduled to play first base in that game, with Justin Morneau in the DH slot.

Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson and general manager Terry Ryan will all watch the 'B' game, then car pool up to Sarasota.

Numbers game

2: Scoreless innings pitched by left-hander Matt Maloney, who also struck out the side in his first spring appearance this past weekend. Maloney will be stretched out like a starting pitcher, although he could wind up pitching in a bullpen role at some point.

1: Perfect bunt laid down by Brian Dozier, who beat out an infield single in the top of the eighth inning.

1: Week until the first round of cuts, give or take a day or two. Neither Gardenhire nor Ryan would confirm an exact date, but both acknowledged the first round would likely take place sometime next week.

3-0: The Twins' record against the Rays this spring.

0-2: The Twins' record against everyone else (the Red Sox).

Health report

• First base coach Jerry White was hospitalized on Monday due to tightness in his stomach and chest. Gardenhire said White "is feeling fine," and doctors were planning to run a stress test on Tuesday morning. "They're just checking everything out. Everything was fine yesterday. We'll know more when we get back."

Joel Zumaya's Tommy John surgery will be performed on March 29 in Pensacola, Fla. by Dr. James Andrews. The Twins will wait to make any roster moves.

On deck

Wednesday: @ Orioles, 12:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
Thursday: vs. Rays, 12:05 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano vs. RHP Chris Archer
Friday: vs. Cardinals, 12:05 p.m., RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Adam Wainwright

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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