PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. - Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Nick Blackburn has earned a spot in the starting rotation, leaving two pitchers batting for the fifth spot -- Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey.

Blackburn pitched three perfect innings in Saturday's 6-1 victory over Tampa Bay.

"I'd say Blacky's in the rotation," Gardenhire said. "I like that sinkerball. If he's healthy, he's going at it pretty good. I like what we're seeing. He's one of my guys."

Blackburn went 10-12 with a 5.42 ERA last year and had arthroscopic surgery to remove loose particles from his right elbow. In his first start this spring, he threw two scoreless innings.

"This is probably the best I've felt in the last several springs, with knees and everything included," Blackburn said. "I'm finally getting out there to run a little bit. My legs feel stronger, which carries over to my delivery, too. My elbow feels great. I can't remember having as much freedom in my elbow as I've had."

Gardenhire hinted that he would like to make it a three-man battle for the final rotation spot, adding prospect Kyle Gibson to the mix. But the manager knows the front office will lean toward starting Gibson in the minors.

Slowey pitched three scoreless innings Friday in his second spring appearance. Baker, another righthander who had arthroscopic elbow surgery last October, is scheduled to make his second appearance Monday against St. Louis.


• Gardenhire said he's not sure Joe Mauer will be ready to catch a bullpen session Sunday, but the manager insisted he's not worried what day that happens. Mauer continues to put in long workouts at the Lee County Sports Complex, but he hasn't done any catching.

• Delmon Young might have some adjustments made to his shoes to help him get past his turf toe issue, Gardenhire said. The left fielder has been hitting in batting practice with authority but had a recent setback and hasn't been running.

• Francisco Liriano said his left shoulder felt normal Saturday, which was a good sign coming off his first spring start in a B game Friday against Tampa Bay. Liriano had some inflammation the shoulder before reporting to camp, but he hopes that's behind him.

• Anthony Slama has been dealing with an arm issue and hasn't pitched in a game since Monday, when he gave up two runs on four hits in an inning against Boston. Slama, who posted a 2.20 ERA in 54 relief appearances in Class AAA last season, is hoping to return to the mound soon.

• Twins catcher Jair Fernandez went to drink a cup of Gatorade before Saturday's game and got stung by a bee -- in his mouth. The bee had crawled into the cooler's spigot and landed in the cup before Fernandez took a drink. A trainer removed the stinger with a tweezers. Fernandez still caught two innings and singled in his only at-bat.

On deck

Brian Duensing pitches for the Twins, and Jeremy Guthrie pitches for Baltimore on Sunday in Fort Myers, Fla. The Twins also plan to give Rule 5 draft pick Scott Diamond a two-inning relief stint.