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Updated: May 27th, 2010 6:03pm
Pregame notes: Blackburn and Vazquez turning their seasons around

Pregame notes: Blackburn and Vazquez turning their seasons around

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Yankees starting pitcher Javier Vazquez (3-4, 6.69) has a storied history with the Twins from his days in a Chicago White Sox uniform, although he's been a dart board for criticism in New York through the first two months of the season.

Vazquez's ERA was just a shade under 10.00 in early May, prompting manager Joe Girardi to skip the veteran right-hander in the rotation.

Since then, however, Vazquez has made two starts, throwing a combined 13 innings, while allowing only two earned runs and six hits. He walked four and struck out 13 during that span -- much more similar to the 2009 version of Vazquez that posted a 2.87 ERA for Atlanta, while striking out 238 batters in 219 1/3 innings.

The Twins can tell a similar story about Nick Blackburn (5-1, 4.50), who struggled mightily in April, while also dealing with personal issues and soreness behind his pitching elbow.

But since May 1, Blackburn has started four times (30 1/3 innings), posting a 2.67 ERA with only five walks and two home runs allowed.

"He's still a young pitcher, but he definitely understands, the way the game is, you should be able to watch video and see what you're doing right and wrong," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have all that access now, and you can definitely watch video when you're struggling a little bit, and try to figure it out a little easier. (Rick Anderson) has worked with him all the time. Andy knows these guys all really well, so that helps too. Sometimes the pitcher has a hard time being able to feel that on the mound, and you point it out to them and they can feel it once they get doing it right again."

NOTES

* Regarding the Yankees' dominance over the Twins, what else is there to say?

The Twins will attempt to avoid a sweep tonight, and even if they win, the notion that Minnesota can beat New York in a playoff series will still seem far-fetched to many.

* Gardenhire said INF Nick Punto (finger) should be ready to return to the lineup on Friday night against the Texas Rangers.

"He took some swings in the cage today," Gardenhire said. "His finger feels better. I'm sure he'll be in the lineup tomorrow, unless something happens between now and then."

Alexi Casilla will start at third base tonight.

* LHP Jose Mijares hasn't pitched since May 21. What gives?

"He was asking today, I think, why he 'no pitches,'" Gardenhire said. "He'll get in there. Right now it's been match-ups more than anything else. He was up again last night, if we got to a certain hitter he was going to be in the game. We feel pretty comfortable with him right now. He's throwing the heck out of the ball."

Mijares has hurled three consecutive scoreless outings since allowing an earned run at New York in his first appearance back from the disabled list. The Twins could certainly use another trustworthy option in late innings.

* Speaking of which, it's worth noting Gardenhire said, "I'd like to back (Alex Burnett) up into some later inning situations."

Burnett has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins, posting a 2.86 ERA in 22 innings so far. He has allowed 32 base runners in those 22 innings, but he has 19 strikeouts and zero home runs allowed as well.

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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