From April 11-24, Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn went 0-1 in three starts while allowing 15 earned runs in 17 innings and raising his ERA from 5.02 to 6.85.

Now in his past two starts, including Sunday when he blanked the Orioles on four hits for seven innings, the 28-year-old righthander has given up only three earned runs in 16 innings and has seen his ERA drop from 6.85 to 4.76.

Blackburn said he was troubled by some tendinitis in his elbow, but it is all cleared up now and he is pitching much better as a result.

"That was one of the issues -- but everything's good now, everything feels good, everything feels fine," Blackburn said. "For a week or two I could feel it, just a nagging thing, nothing too bad, but that's all done with."

Blackburn said he wasn't concerned about it being something serious.

"I mean, it's something every pitcher goes through, just a little tendinitis and that's going to happen in this game," he said.

"It's something that comes and goes. It doesn't happen at one particular time, it just kind of starts creeping up on you and if you're not on the right medicine or if you're not icing or whatever it can sneak up on you and cause a little problem."

Asked about Blackburn's big improvement, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said:

"We had the little issue where his mechanics were a little out of whack, and you know what, now he's fine. He's actually healthy and his mechanics are good again. We got his arm, got that little situation out of there, and he's throwing the ball really good. It's sinking again."

Meanwhile, shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has been out of the lineup because of a wrist problem, said he had a good workout Sunday and hopes to be back in the lineup on Tuesday when the White Sox come to town.

Likes Twins chances

After watching his Baltimore Orioles split four games with the Twins, Andy MacPhail, the team's president, believes Minnesota is the team to beat in the AL Central. "It's a good team. They've got solid pitching," said MacPhail, who was the Twins' general manager when they won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. MacPhail said the real test of the team was when it lost closer Joe Nathan and setup man Pat Neshek but still continued to win.

"That they go along and don't really suffer as a result speaks volumes about the depth that they have in their organization, that they can overcome those two losses [of Nathan and Neshek] and still play well," MacPhail said.

Looking back to his stay in Minnesota from 1985 to 1994 before he took over the Cubs, MacPhail said that "even more importantly than [winning the two World Series], both my boys were born here in Minnesota and I made a lot of friends here -- it was a good time. Not only did we win two championships, we also finished last one time, so we sort of went through the whole gamut."

Having worked with most of the baseball people now involved with the Twins, MacPhail is not surprised at how well the team has done.

"You learn a lot about the people you're working with in working through it, and it's really a great experience," MacPhail said. "[The Twins have] very supportive ownership, and I'm very tickled that they get to enjoy, and their fans get to enjoy, a ballpark like this outdoors."

Hurt Vikings progress

Vikings football coach Brad Childress said linebacker E.J. Henderson, who broke his leg in the 30-17 loss to Arizona in Week 13 last season, is lifting weights and making good progress and should be able to play this season.

"He looks good to me," Childress said, adding that cornerback Cedric Griffin, who suffered a serious knee injury in the NFC Championship Game and had surgery, is doing some running now.

"I don't know if we'll have him [Griffin] by the time the season's open, but nothing either one of those two guys do surprises me," Childress said. "Those guys, every time I go down [to the training room], there they're down there, and they've been religious about it."

Childress added that Toby Gerhart, the Stanford running back who was drafted in the second round, will miss the minicamp that starts May 18 because he won't graduate from school until June.

Jottings

Timberwolves first round draft pick Ricky Rubio is a member of the FC Barcelona basketball team that won the Euroleague Championship on Sunday. Rubio had nine points, two assists, two steals, and one block in the 86-68 victory over Olympiakos of Greece. In the semifinals Friday, Rubio had 10 points, eight assists, two steals and hit a late three-pointer in a 64-54 victory over Moscow.

Ex-Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey is one of the top candidates for the Philadelphia 76ers coaching job and is being considered for a number of other NBA positions.

Through 10 playoff games with the Boston Bruins, former Gopher Blake Wheeler has one goal and five assists. The Bruins lead the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. ... Former Gophers defenseman Alex Goligoski has one goal and three assists in the past five playoff games for the Pittsburgh Penguins through Saturday. He also ranks second among Penguins defensemen in points (two goals and five assists) and leads Penguins defensemen with 24 shots in 11 postseason games. ... Former Gopher Jordan Leopold hasn't registered any points for the Penguins during the playoffs but missed five games because of injury.

Wild prospect Kris Foucault and the Calgary Hitmen defeated the Tri City Americans to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the Western Junior Hockey League final. They will play the Quebec Junior Hockey League champions, the Brandon Wheat Kings, for the national junior league title. ... Former Gopher basketball player Dan Coleman is averaging 14.8 points, 5.3 rebounds while playing 32.1 minutes for Bourg Basket in France. ... In his first season with Budivelnyk Kyiv in the Ukraine, former Minneapolis North and UConn star Khalid El Amin is averaging 21.2 points, 5.5 assists and 2.3 steals -- all team highs.

In 14 games with Mersin Buyuksehir Belediyesi in Turkey, ex-Gopher Vincent Grier is averaging 11.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. ... Another former Gopher, Rick Rickert, is playing with the Harbour Heat team in New Zealand after finishing the 2009-2010 season the New Zealand Breakers. He is averaging 18.2 points and 9.7 rebounds for his new team. ... Also playing in New Zealand is Nick Horvath, the former Mounds View and Duke star, who is averaging 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game for the Wellington Saints.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com