Notes: Blackburn opening eyes
Prized prospect making strong case for spot in rotation
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Right-hander Nick Blackburn earned the honor of being named the Twins' top prospect by Baseball America this fall, but with his performance so far this spring, he could be on his way to earning an even more coveted prize: A spot in the Twins' rotation.Blackburn continued to make a push for one of those roles on Friday, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings in the Twins' 7-2 victory over the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. After replacing Francisco Liriano with two outs in the second inning, Blackburn faced a total of eight batters while issuing just one walk. Four of his seven outs came courtesy of ground balls. Blackburn has now thrown four scoreless innings this spring while allowing just one hit. The right-hander's numbers don't count the scoreless inning he threw against the Rays on Tuesday in St. Petersburg, a game that was postponed by rain. After the contest against the Rays, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire raved about the pitcher's performance and the steps Blackburn has made since his short stint with the club as a September call-up last year. It was during that call-up that Blackburn first got the opportunity to showcase his skills to the team, but he struggled to find success. He gave up 10 earned runs over his 11 2/3 innings with the Twins, and the coaching staff felt that he was relying too much on his fastball instead of mixing in all of his pitches. After the Twins' season ended, Blackburn headed to the Arizona Fall League, where he focused on trying to do just that. He had success there, going 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in six starts. Now, he feels that he's carrying over those changes into the spring. "That's what a lot of my focus was on this offseason, was getting control of my pitches so I can go in, in any situation, and be able to use them," Blackburn said. "It's definitely helped me out. It makes me a lot more comfortable on the mound." Ready to go: Right-hander Jesse Crain made his official Grapefruit League debut on Friday against the Red Sox. Crain pitched one inning, walking one batter and striking out one. It was Crain's second game action of the spring. He pitched one inning against the Red Sox in a "B" game at City of Palms Park on Monday. But this time, he said he felt happier with the results.
"I felt more in control today," Crain said. "My goal was to throw more strikes and I felt like I did that. It's a positive step."While the Twins have been cautious with Crain early in spring, the right-hander said he expects now to be on a regular schedule -- pitching every two days. Now in left: Craig Monroe got to test the strained muscle in his lower left leg, getting his first start of the spring in the outfield. After playing six innings in left field, Monroe said that he still feels a little something in the leg, but it's not a huge concern. "A couple of days going out there and I think that's going to go away," Monroe said. The outfielder has talked about trying to remain more patient at the plate this season, but he took the first pitch he saw from Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz deep in the first inning. It was Monroe's first home run of the spring. He's back: Matt Guerrier was back with the Twins after missing three days of camp due to a family medical issue. The right-hander got right back into game action, pitching the fifth inning of Friday's game against Boston. But he took a line drive off the heel of his left shoe during the inning. Guerrier was able to remain in the game and pitch the rest of the inning. Twice as nice: The Twins picked up victories in both of their split-squad contests on Friday, as the club also defeated the Blue Jays, 4-0, in Dunedin, Fla. Starter Glen Perkins pitched three scoreless innings, allowing two hits while walking one and striking out three. Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey each tossed two scoreless innings to help hold up the shutout. Carlos Gomez showcased his offensive skills with a bunt single in the first and a run-scoring triple in the third inning. Randy Ruiz also homered in the game. Up next: The Twins head to Bradenton on Saturday for their first meeting of the spring against the Pirates. Right-hander Scott Baker will get the start for Minnesota as he faces off against right-hander Matt Morris. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.