Blackburn back with confidence

  • Article by: CRAIG MALVEAUX and JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 19, 2012 - 10:20 PM
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Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn

Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

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Following a two-game pitching stint at Class AAA Rochester, Nick Blackburn returns to the Twins with a head full of confidence and clarity.

Blackburn, who makes his first start back Friday in Kansas City, was optioned down on July 4th, after a series of rough outings. Hitters teed off on the righthander in those last 10 starts this year. He primarily struggled with his sinking fastball, but his entire pitching repertoire contributed to an 8.10 ERA.

Blackburn said he and Rochester pitching coach Bobby Cuellar watched tape of his throwing mechanics from the 2009 season, when he experienced some success, and tried to mirror that.

"In just 10 minutes of watching tape, coach pointed out a few things," he said. "One of those things was getting my frontside flat. So far this season, especially after the injuries, I wasn't getting extension."

Blackburn focused on tweaking his delivery, release point and his sinker, going 2-0 with a 0.60 ERA for Rochester.

"I don't know if they fixed anything," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think he just was able to get on the mound and stay out there without getting his brains beat out and kind of finding himself."

Not satisfied on offense

A common refrain this season has been that the Twins have a good-enough offense to win. General Manager Terry Ryan isn't so sure.

"We're averaging four runs a game; that isn't a very good offense," Ryan said. "I don't want to berate my own organization here, but I have to be honest: We're not scoring runs [consistently]. We scored 19 runs the other day [Monday], and then we came back and scored one [Wednesday]. Average it out, and it's about four runs a game. That's not enough in the American League by any stretch."

The Twins averaged 3.82 runs per game last year, second-fewest in the AL. They entered Thursday ranked ninth in the league with 4.29 runs per game, a touch below the AL's 4.49 average.

Defending Mauer's deal

Joe Mauer's batting average, on-base percentage and legs might be healthy this year, but he still faces his share of criticism in Year 2 of his eight-year, $184 million contract.

"I don't hear any of that [criticism], but I don't doubt that there are people out there [criticizing Mauer]," Ryan said. "But most of it's because of the contract."

Mauer also has six home runs after hitting 28 the year before he signed his deal.

"No one has ever said that we thought Joe Mauer was going to hit 28 home runs every year, especially with the move from the Dome to [Target Field]," Ryan said. "He made the All-Star team. He's been in the lineup for the most part. He's doing about [what he did in] his career that's brought him to this point. So if they've got a criticism, it's only because of the dollars."

Doumit debuts in left

Ryan Doumit made his career debut in left field in place of Josh Willingham, who moved to designated hitter. Doumit has started six games in right field for the Twins this year -- his most recent start coming May 4 -- but Gardenhire wanted to keep Ben Revere at that position.

"This will give me a few chances to give Willingham the breaks he's going to need," Gardenhire said. "He's played a lot of baseball."

Doumit was replaced by Darin Mastroianni in the top of eighth, meaning Mastroianni, not Doumit, came up with two runners on in the bottom of the inning after the Twins gave up the lead.

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