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Updated: August 21st, 2012 6:34pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM not concerned about being able to spend

Zulgad's Roundup: Twins GM not concerned about being able to spend

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that even if Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka don't play for the big-league team next season, the combined $8.5 million they are owed in 2013 won't cause issues when it comes to what happens with the payroll.

"Not at all," Ryan said during an appearance on Tom Pelissero's show Monday night on 1500 ESPN. "We'll make it work. I'm not worried about payroll. You've heard me say that a lot. I am not worried about that, whether it's $8 million, $10 million.

"We've got some other players making money on this ballclub and obviously we're in last place so it's not working right now. We're going to have to find some people, whether they are making $500,000 or $5 million.

"It's a piece of our payroll, there's no doubt about that, and I'd like to think we can resurrect these two guys so it's not a hindrance on our ability to move forward. I know that it is something I have to pay attention to, but it's not going to hinder us."

The Twins, who enter Tuesday night's game in Oakland with an American League-worst 51-70 record, sent Blackburn to Triple-A Rochester on Monday and outrighted him off their 40-man roster. Nishioka already was in Rochester but he also was taken off the 40-man roster.

Ryan, in his second stint as the Twins' general manager, clearly will have to make some significant changes this offseason as he attempts to turn around a franchise that lost 99 games in 2011 and continues to struggle in 2012.

It's hard to believe Nishioka will be back in the organization next season.

That means the former Japan league all-star will have cost the Twins not only $9.25 million for his three-year contract, but also the $5.3 million posting fee that had to be paid to obtain his negotiating rights. Nishioka's contract runs through 2013 at $3 million per season.

While starting pitching is the Twins' most pressing concern, and it's expected that when the club spends money this offseason much of it will go to this area, Ryan makes it clear he isn't sold on the team's offense either.

"I'm not of the opinion that our offense is good enough myself," he said. "I've heard people say we've got a (good enough) lineup. We've got a lineup that is a respectable lineup. But still we go in these stretches where we score one or two runs for five or six games in a row and that's not going to get it done in any league.

"So we've got to find a way. More often than not, it's in crucial situations when we load the bases and we don't get a run in or we get one run in with bases loaded and no outs. You've got to do better than that. You've got to put up crooked numbers and you can't let pitchers off the hook. So we've got pitching issues, but we've got offensive issues."

Blackburn's future in doubt

Blackburn also might be finished with the Twins.

The righthander is due $5.5 million next season in the final year of the four-year deal he signed in March 2010. The 30-year-old went 4-9 with a 7.39 earned-run average in 19 starts this season, giving him three consecutive losing years.

Since going 22-22 with a 4.04 in his first two seasons (2008-2009), Blackburn is 21-31 with a 5.56 ERA. He did have a quality stretch in May and June of 2011, going 5-1 with a 2.29 ERA but has struggled for much of the time since.

This will be Blackburn's third trip to Rochester this season. He went on a rehabilitation assignment in late May after returning from a quadriceps injury and then was demoted in July after continuing to struggle.

Blackburn hadn't won since June 22 and expressed his lack of confidence in what had gone wrong after losing at Seattle on Friday. He gave up 11 hits and five earned runs in that 5-3 loss.

Ryan agreed that Blackburn seems to have lost his confidence, but then acknowledged there are other issues as well.

"I'm guessing that's exactly what's happened because his stuff is about the same," Ryan said. "Granted he's not locating like he should or can and there are some thoughts about him and his sinker. I don't see it sinking. That's another problem. He's approaching it like he's got a power sinker. I don't think that would be the case anymore.

"Back three years ago or so he did have a power-type sinker and also a hard cutter and he kept the ball off the center of the plate for the most part. He's fallen into a tough situation, but we can't wait any longer. It's been a long time since he has succeeded, and now it's our turn to make a move here and see if we can get him right.

"It's obvious that he's struggling. Whether it's confidence, whether it's ability, no matter what it is. We need to get it straight so we can count on him instead of hoping. I think he was at the point where he's ready to go back to Triple-A to see if he can get this right."

The moves with Blackburn and Nishioka mean the Twins now have 38 players on their 40-man roster. With rosters set to be expanded to 40 players on Sept. 1, it's likely Blackburn and Nishioka will be replaced with two players whom the Twins want to take a look at in the final month of the season.

Ryan did not dismiss the notion that the spots on the 40 man could be filled before Sept. 1.

"I'm certainly thinking about it," he said. "It's not like I cleared those for nothing. If I need one I want to have it and not be hindered by not having a spot. We could possibly fill one of those spots here in the near future if we need it."

As for Nishioka and Blackburn?

"Both of them are still in the organization, so we'll see if they can earn themselves back on that roster," Ryan said.

A second look

Ryan spent time last week in Rochester watching Nishioka and clearly that helped him make the decision to remove the infielder from the 40 man.

That came after Nishioka was recalled by the Twins and had a miserable three-game series in Cleveland from Aug. 6-8, going 0-for-12 with a sacrifice fly and committing numerous miscues at second base. He officially was charged with two errors after having one taken away upon a review.

"He is a much better player than he showed in Cleveland," Ryan said. "But, nonetheless, I still thought it was a wise thing to do to take him off and clear up a spot."

Ryan also seemed a bit perplexed that Nishioka looked better when he played shortstop at Rochester than he did at second base.

"He looks much more comfortable at shortstop, which is ironic when you've got a second baseman/shortstop," Ryan said. "He looks better at shortstop. That was another factor. I don't know what it is about second base (that is tough for him). It might be having your back to the runner bearing down on you (when you're) completing the double play.

"But he had a lot of trouble over at second base here in the short amount of time we had him up here. I saw a little bit of that down in Rochester and then they moved him across and he looked better.

"But it's obvious it's a different game, it's a quicker game here (than it is in Japan). It's more power oriented here. He does have a little life in his bat. I'll give him that. I'm a little concerned about other parts of his game and being where he's supposed to be and so forth. But he does take a competitive at-bat."

Fusco remains starter

Brandon Fusco, a sixth-round pick by the Vikings in 2011 out of Slippery Rock, will start Friday night's third preseason game against San Diego at right guard.

There appears a very strong chance that Fusco also will hold that job on Sept. 9 when the Vikings open the regular season against Jacksonville.

While Fusco has played well with the first team, he also hasn't gotten much competition. Geoff Schwartz was expected to compete after signing as a free agent in March but he underwent sports hernia surgery early in camp and remains sidelined.

DeMarcus Love has been slowed by a pectoral injury, meaning Chris DeGeare has had to fill in at other sports on the line as well.

That means that for the sake of building continuity on the offensive line, the best plan is to leave Fusco as the starting right guard.

"Part of what we are trying to do is that you want that unity on the offensive line," coach Leslie Frazier said. "That is part of a successful line if they can play together, practice together and be around each other."

Asked about Fusco's situation, Frazier said: "You don't want it to be (starter by) default. You want to keep putting him in situations to see how he handled things and then make a determination, 'Is this the best thing for the team?' He has done a good job so far, but he has a limited amount of experience so we want to keep giving him more and see how he responds."

Fusco said in his mind he hasn't won the starting job and knows he has to keep working.

"There's guy on this team who could step up and play (right guard) right now," Fusco said. "Joe (Berger), Chris (DeGeare). There's a bunch of guys on this roster who could easily come up and start at this right guard spot. Right now, it's my job to lose out here, and it's how I compete each and every day and just keep getting better." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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