FORT MYERS, FLA. - On March 7, 2009, the Twins rewarded pitcher Scott Baker with a long-term contract. Exactly one year later, it was Nick Blackburn's turn.
The Twins signed Blackburn to a four-year, $14 million contract with a club option for 2014 on Sunday. The deal was very similar to Baker's, who received a four-year, $15.25 million contract with a club option for 2013.
In each case, the Twins took a workhorse pitcher and bought out his arbitration years, leaving an option to keep the pitcher the first year he could become a free agent.
"It's a great feeling," Blackburn said. "A couple years ago, I didn't really think it was an opportunity that I would get. To get it done and to get the security for my wife and I, with a baby on the way ... we couldn't be more excited."
His wife, Alicia, is expecting the couple's first child in August. He has come a long ways since 2001, when the Twins drafted him in the 29th round out of Del City (Okla.) High School.
Often sidelined by knee injuries, Blackburn had a slow climb through the system. The righthander became a big factor for the Twins as a rookie in 2008, going 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA and pitching 193 1/3 innings.
He was the losing pitcher in that year's Game 163 tiebreaker against the White Sox but lasted 6 1/3 innings in a 1-0 defeat, with the only blip coming on Jim Thome's seventh-inning home run.
Last year, he posted almost identical numbers. He was 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA, led the team with 205 2/3 innings pitched and posted a similar strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also pitched well down the stretch -- the Twins won his final four starts, in which he posted a 1.65 ERA, and he gave up three hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees in his Game 2 start of the playoffs.
"We tried to identify players who would be a good fit for a multiyear contract, and Nick certainly fit that bill," Twins General Manager Bill Smith said. "He's had two remarkably consistent seasons. He threw 200 innings last year, and he's pitched in a lot of big games for us over the last two years."
Baker was derailed by a strained shoulder last spring after signing his deal. He opened last season on the disabled list and was 2-6 with a 6.32 ERA by the end of May. But then he got on a roll, finishing 15-9 with a 4.37 ERA, with 200 innings pitched.
Blackburn and Baker were two of only 36 pitchers in the majors who reached the 200-inning mark last season.
Blackburn didn't sound worried about letting pressure from his new contract affect his performance. He will make $750,000 this year, $3 million in 2011, then $4.75 million and $5.5 million, with an $8 million option for 2014.
"It just kind of helps me relax, knowing they have a lot of confidence in me," he said. "There's great people throughout the organization, and I'm just glad to be here for the next four years, maybe five. Hopefully five."