Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/7/12
FORT MYERS, Fla. Since he was a teenager, Nick Blackburn had thrown from the side of the pitching rubber closest to first base. But the Twins' right-handed sinkerballer made a change this offseason, moving closer to the center of the mound. It's still early in spring, but Blackburn said the change is paying off. "It's been good so far. It's been a great adjustment," said Blackburn, who threw two scoreless innings in the Twins' "B" game Wednesday against Boston. "It's helped me feel better. It's helped me have great direction on my pitches." One key to the new stance is against right-handed batters, as Blackburn said standing on the first-base side exposes his hand more to hitters. By moving over a bit, it gives the batter less time to recognize what he might be throwing. It also has its benefits against left-handers, said Blackburn. "More deception for righties for sure, but also for lefties when I'm throwing that sinker into them as opposed to starting at their hip and coming back over the middle," he said. "Now it's coming towards them a little bit, so it's creating a little bit of deception." Blackburn said he won't mess with where he stands on the rubber during the season, but he could continue to move even closer toward the third base side. "I talked to (pitching coach Rick Anderson) before I even attempted this this offseason, just asked and it was something that was in my mind last year," Blackburn said. "He said that all the old-school pitchers pitched from the third base side and I wouldn't mind eventually being there, but to make that kind of adjustment usually is a huge change. It may not seem like moving eight inches is going to make that big of a difference, but you are creating a huge angle for the pitcher also." Blackburn is coming off surgery this past winter after he was diagnosed with radial tunnel syndrome. The surgery helped decompress his radial nerve in his right forearm. He still has the scar to prove it, but he said after Wednesday's start that the arm hasn't been an issue this spring since the surgery. And he knows health will be key for him this season after his arm injury limited him to just 148 13 innings last year, the fewest in his four years as a starter for the Twins. He said Wednesday that his goal is to reach the 200-inning mark in 2012, something he's accomplished only once in his career (205 23 innings in 2009). "Obviously it's no secret that I haven't been extremely consistent over the last couple years," said Blackburn, who has posted ERAs of 5.42 and 4.49 over the last two seasons. "That's something that, being a sinkerball pitcher, you have to do. If I can't get to 200 innings, I'm not offering a whole lot. I'm not going to go out there and strike a lot of guys out. I'm not a power pitcher. I've got to get to where I'm eating up some innings." Mauer gets work in at first base: Joe Mauer moved around the field a bit last year to help preserve his legs, and the Twins catcher was at first base for Wednesday's "B" game versus the Red Sox. Mauer didn't record a hit in the game, but he did make a nice backhanded play on a ground ball hit to first. After making the stop, Mauer flipped to Blackburn for the out. "I looked over there and was like, 'Who is that?'" Blackburn joked about Mauer. "He's pretty athletic over there, obviously. He always makes plays. He did last year, diving all over the place." Prior to 2011, Mauer hadn't played any position besides catcher and designated hitter. But he wound up at first base 17 times and right field once last year. Wednesday was the first time this spring he's been over at first, and he once again looked like a natural. "It was good to get out there," Mauer said. "Just comfort-wise dating back to last year, I feel better than I did coming into last year. The more you get over there, the more comfortable you'll be." Morneau reaches base twice in "B" game: Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was in the lineup for the team's "B" game Wednesday against Boston and went 1-for-2. Morneau drew a walk in his first at-bat, grounded out his second time to the plate and ended his day with a double to right field off Red Sox lefty Drake Britton. "That felt good," said Morneau, who connected on a 3-1 fastball from Britton. "The timing is starting to feel like it's starting to get there. We'll see. We get back-to-back days (Thursday). That's usually when the timing starts to come a little bit more. Sometimes you get a little time off and it's hard to find a rhythm." Morneau's timing seemed to be off for much of 2011 after he was sidelined with a concussion for the second half of 2010. He battled multiple injuries last season, including another concussion. As the rest of spring training plays out, Morneau hopes his timing will improve as Opening Day draws closer. "It's one of those things where you never know what's going to happen," Morneau said on when his timing will be back completely. "You just have to trust in the process and trust the hard work you're putting in, because eventually the timing's going to come and you're going to be where you need to be. You want to be there Opening Day is the most important thing."
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