Notebook: Searching for the old Nick Blackburn; Twins add 'B' game
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Among Minnesota Twins pitchers throwing their first bullpen session of spring training Monday was right-hander Nick Blackburn, who underwent forearm surgery last fall.
Specifically, Blackburn underwent a procedure to help alleviate discomfort from Radial Tunnel Syndrome.
After an eight-week rehab process, Blackburn has been throwing for the past few weeks, and on Monday he pitched off a mound for the standard 10 minutes.
"I felt good. I felt fine," Blackburn said. "I hadn't thrown a whole lot of curveballs to this point so that was kind of a little ugly. But they came out good. I was missing down, which is always good. They weren't all Frisbees out there. My mechanics were good and everything feels strong. I feel like I'm using my legs pretty good and getting good extension. That's all I could ask for right now. ...
"I'm not holding back. I have a hard time with mechanics if I'm going at like 75 percent because then I'm slowing everything else down. Obviously, my arm isn't at full strength but it's not like I'm holding way back. I'm still out there working on everything. I would say I'm pretty close. My arm strength will come with time, the more I throw, the more velocity I'll have."
People might forget that in his first two big league seasons, Blackburn was a pretty solid pitcher. He combined to post a 4.04 ERA over 399 innings, including walking fewer than two batters per nine innings. He wasn't spectacular, but he was a workhorse, he was efficient, and he was a valuable pitcher.
Since then, Blackburn's performance and health have both taken a nose dive. He owns a 4.98 ERA over the past two seasons, averaging only 155 innings. He's walking more batters, allowing more home runs, and has undergone two minor -- or perhaps moderately significant -- surgeries.
If he's healthy, he can be a productive fourth or fifth starter. Through 15 games last season Blackburn owned a 3.15 ERA, looking even better than the pitcher the Twins saw in 2008 and 2009. He has also induced more groundballs over the past two years (52%) than in his first two (45%).
Blackburn can offer value. The key is downward movement, which is affected by health.
And as of right now, Blackburn is satisfied with his recovery.
"From Day 1, Dr. Varecka told me once the surgery happened it wouldn't be an issue, and that's why it felt. He said I might be weak rehabbing and my velocity might be down, but obviously at this point, my velocity is never up anyways. During the season it really isn't either, and right now I feel strong and good. I feel as healthy as I could coming into spring. So it's a good feeling."
• Per general manager Terry Ryan, the new injury update messenger, infielder Brian Dozier (cut finger) took batting practice on Monday. "He's OK."
• Ryan said Luke Hughes (shoulder) is getting a second opinion on his MRI, and the Twins expect that to come Tuesday. The infielder still isn't ready to swing a bat.
1: The number of 'B' games scheduled by the Twins on Monday -- a match-up with the Boston Red Sox on March 1. 'B' games are generally played on side fields, without much fanfare, but they give teams a chance to use players that might need more playing time. The Twins are hoping to schedule another 'B' game as well in the near future.
86: Pitches caught in the crouch during bullpen sessions by Joe Mauer on Monday -- 38 from right-hander Scott Baker and 48 from right-hander Brendan Wise. He caught 88 total pitches between three bullpen sessions on Sunday. As anticipated, Mauer is full-go in all workouts, and as of right now health does not seem to be an issue.
"I don't deal with lockers. Lockers don't mean a whole hell of a lot to me. As Rickey Henderson always said, that's tenure. That's called tenure. You get the good lockers when you have tenure. And if you have tenure, you're probably doing pretty good. That means you can play a little bit. Because in baseball, you don't get tenure if you can't play."
-- Manager Ron Gardenhire, when asked who will take Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan's corner lockers at Target Field.
Pitchers and catchers will continue to work out until Friday, when they'll be joined by position players.