Nick Blackburn Spins Gem, Minnesota Twins Spin Trade for Fuentes

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Nick Blackburn is a major league pitcher.

As simple as that sounds and as obvious as it may seem, perhaps Blackburn was the only one that didn’t understand it.

Coming off two very consistent years as a top three starter in the Twins rotation, the first half of his 2010 season was a struggle, with an ERA climbing to 6.66.

It was no surprise to anyone that Blackburn was sent down three weeks ago, but perhaps it was just the wake up call that Blackburn needed.  With such consistency the last two years, he may have fallen into a little bit of an auto pilot phase, with the demotion jolting him back to reality.

It certainly has seemed that way since his return from AAA, where he posted a 1-0 record with a 2.49 ERA, because his pitching has continued to improve off his solid stint in Rochester.

Since returning to the Twins, with his rotation spot being freed up by the injury to Kevin Slowey, Blackburn has posted a 1-1 record with a 1.72 ERA.

nick blackburn

His potential was on full display Saturday, as he picked apart the hapless Seattle Mariners offense to the tune of two hits over 8.2 innings.

No one should get absurdly excited over the fact that Blackburn shut down the Mariners, because they’ve been shutdown by anyone and everyone this year, they should get excited about how he did it.

Blackburn only had to throw 98 pitches for the near-complete game, using two seven pitch innings and one six pitch inning along the way to do so.

The command of his changeup was phenomenal, hitting almost every spot that was asked of that pitch and keeping hitters off balance, while his velocity was in the mid-90s the entire way.

With the way Blackburn is pitching, these last two starts can hardly be called an aberration, especially considering the impressive stat line he put up against the Texas Rangers (7IP, 3ER, 0BB), the sixth best offense in baseball.

If Blackburn continues to pitch like this, the question will arise when Slowey comes off the DL, what to do with the fifth rotation spot down the stretch.

Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano are clearly the 1-2 in this rotation, and Brian Duensing continues to pitch well, with an ERA under three since becoming a starter and a 4-1 record.

That leaves three pitchers (Blackburn, Slowey, and Scott Baker) for two spots.

Slowey was pitching well before he went on the DL, and with Blackburn gaining some steam down the stretch, it would seem Baker would be the odd man out, an unthinkable idea considering how high the Twins coaching staff and organization has been on him for years.

scott baker

That being said, having too many capable starting pitchers is a good problem to have, and I’m sure Ron Gardenhire wouldn’t mind making that tough decision regarding the last spot in the rotation.

Blackburn wasn’t the only good news Saturday.

After Blackburn walked Chone Figgins with two outs in the ninth, Gardenhire decided to bring in the newly acquired Brian Fuentes, whom the Twins received for a player to be named later from the L.A. Angels Friday.

brian fuentes

Fuentes, who has been devastating against lefties this year (.132 BAA), struck out power hitting lefty Russell Branyan on four pitches to pick up his 24th save of the year.

With the Twins losing bullpen lefties Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares for an extended period of time, the acquisition of Fuentes is huge since they now have that dominating lefty out of the bullpen.

Pair Fuentes, who will be the setup man, with new closer Matt Capps, and you have a formidable duo at the end of any game.

Jon Rauch, who was the closer for the second best bullpen in baseball before the All-Star break, is almost a complete afterthought at this point as the Twins continue to add to the reliever core that now ranks third-best in the majors.

It wasn’t immediately clear who the Twins gave up for Fuentes, as Angels GM Tony Reagins would only say it was a “player with upside.”

With the Angels being a large disappointment this year and seemingly in sell mode with a deal for Mike Napoli possibly coming soon after he got claimed off waivers Sunday, one wouldn’t think that the prospect had to be all that enticing for the Angels to pull the trigger.

Even if the prospect is one of the Twins top ten, you still have to admire the organization’s willingness to play for the present rather than holding onto every prospect like they’re the savior of baseball, a former trademark of Minnesota baseball.

When you start to look ahead towards the playoffs, you have to like the Twins chances more and more every day, and Blackburn and Fuentes are just two pieces to a puzzle that may finally be coming together for the Twins for the first time since 1991.

-Mike Gallagher

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  1. i am absurdly excited about this article!

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