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Shipley: Nick Blackburn makes adjustments

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Nick Blackburn’s greatest redeeming quality is his ability to consume innings. Unfortunately, for the past two consecutive seasons, he has not come close to proving his worth in this department.

When he was not sidelined by injuries, Blackburn pitched on either side of the spectrum for the Twins. One month - like May 2011 where he went 3-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 42 innings pitched - he would be dazzling, using his sinker effectively and keeping opponents off-balanced. The next month – like July in which he went 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in 29 innings – he’d have fallen apart and was beaten senseless across the field. Naturally, injuries played a significant role in his bi-polar performances and helps explain his decline to some degree.

But Blackburn has come into camp healthier following his second-straight offseason with an elbow procedure and, according to the Pioneer Press’s John Shipley, he has made a series of adjustments that they hope will improve his numbers against right-handed hitters:

Blackburn has suffered a series of nagging injuries in recent years. He is coming off offseason surgery to repair an entangled nerve in his right forearm. After several bullpen sessions in which he demonstrated very little control, Blackburn appears to have grown accustomed to his one major adjustment of the spring: He's moved from the first base side of the pitching rubber to the middle.

"It's helping me get over the whole arm issue," he said. "Everything is really strong right now."

Moving to the center of the rubber makes it harder for right-handed batters to pick up the ball. He's able to "hide it" longer during his delivery. The new position also has resulted in a more over-the-top pitching angle, which is easier on the arm.
Shifting on the rubber is not an uncommon practice among pitchers. In 2011, pitch f/x guru Mike Fast found that some premier pitchers such as Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander all made in-season adjustments by shifting their starting point. In their cases, all three hurlers moved to the first base side of the rubber. By shifting to the middle, Blackburn is hoping to add a bit of deception to his repertoire to combat right-handed foes.

And the changes are completely necessary for Blackie. Over the past two seasons, right-handers have feasted on his offerings. In 2010, they hit a robust .318/.352/.485 in 345 plate appearances. Those totals increased this past season when they hit .316/.362/.507 in 318 plate appearances. This is starkly different from his results pre-2010 when he last threw his slider successfully. While hiding the ball longer may improve his marks, having a secondary pitch such as his slider would likely go further towards curbing righties.

Keep in mind that spring training is a time where promises are often made and the regular season is where they are not kept. Last year, Jose Mijares received glowing reviews about his new two-seamer. That did not exactly pan out for the big lefty. As the spring progresses, be sure to monitor how Blackburn fares against same-sided opponents.
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