FORT MYERS (AP) - Nick Blackburn said he's throwing better than ever.
The results back him up.
The Twins' right-hander, who ended last year on the disabled list before having offseason forearm surgery, gave up one hit and no runs over four innings of a Minnesota Twins split-squad's 3-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday.
``I honestly don't remember having the movement that I have right now - I feel like everything's pretty sharp and pretty late,' Blackburn said. ``I could be completely wrong, but like I said, I feel like right now I have the best movement in possibly the whole time. So we'll see. I've been getting enough bad swings that it kind of indicates that I could be right about that.'
The bad swings have added up to two hits in seven shutout innings for Blackburn this spring. He also pitched another three scoreless innings against Boston in ``B' games.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson is excited to see his work this winter with Blackburn paying off. One of the main switches was shifting Blackburn to the center of the rubber instead of throwing from the first-base side.
``I'll tell you what, he's pitching as well as I've seen him,' said Anderson, who has coached pitchers for the team for 10 years. ``He's pitching extremely well. He's got arm speed; mechanically, he's real sound right now. When you've got mechanics and arm speed, things just fall in place. Right now, he's feeling pretty good about himself.'
Baltimore starter Chris Tillman, a 23-year-old former second-round draft pick, gave up four hits, two walks and one run in 3 1-3 innings. Manager Buck Showalter was pleased with what he saw of the pitcher who struggled last year to a 3-5 record with a 5.52 ERA.
``He's a guy with a big upside,' Showalter said. ``I feel good about where he is. His arm is a lot further along this year than it was last year.'
The same could be said for Blackburn, who went 7-10 last year, then had surgery to repair a nerve in his forearm. A year earlier, he had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
The sinkerball thrower believes it's the work he's been putting in more than finally being healthy that is showing up in his stat lines.
``Just the small changes I've made,' Blackburn said. ``I don't think the surgery really did anything but correct the arm; it didn't change the way I pitch or anything. The fact that I'm moving a little more around the rubber has been the biggest key for me so far.'
The lone hit allowed by Blackburn was to Chris Davis on a double in the first inning. The first baseman, who struggled late last year with a slight right labrum tear after coming over in a trade from the Rangers, went 2 for 4 with a double to lead the Orioles. He came in hitting .227 for the spring.
Chris Parmelee and Ryan Doumit had a pair of hits each for Minnesota.
NOTE: Twins pitcher Scott Baker, who has not pitched since a ``B' game Saturday, will not get a start until Thursday at the soonest because of elbow tendinitis.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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