Blackburn ignites Minnesota's revival

Updated: June 19, 2011, 1:55 PM ET
By Buster Olney

Nick Blackburn's ERA was 5.14 as he prepared for his start against the Chicago White Sox on May 4, and he was scrambling for solutions. As he and catcher Rene Rivera talked about the White Sox hitters and how they wanted to pitch to them, they stumbled upon an approach that has worked against all teams Blackburn has faced since then.

"We were kind of searching, trying to figure out how to get guys out," he said in a phone interview. "We found a little bit of a groove."

Yes, he did. Blackburn has played a major role in, first, stabilizing the Twins, and now in their push back toward .500; he is 5-0 with a 2.28 ERA in his last nine starts.

The White Sox are aggressive and free-swinging at the plate, and Blackburn and Rivera decided before that May 4 start that they would work inside with fastballs. And this, in turn, would open up the outer half of the plate for Blackburn's offspeed pitches. The Minnesota right-hander allowed one run in 6.2 innings that day, results that reinforced something for Blackburn: If he pitched inside, aggressively, he would create more space for himself in another part of the strike zone. What this meant, too, was that Blackburn didn't have to be quite as precise with his command, because his margin for error with the strike zone would be larger.

Pitching inside can be treacherous business, because of the risk of home runs. But Blackburn's reputation among advance scouts is as a pitcher who is generally fearless; he can overcome the reality that he doesn't have Justin Verlander's fastball by being aggressive, by challenging hitters. "I just started attacking the strike zone a little bit more, instead of nitpicking at the corners," said Blackburn.