SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Clayton Blackburn was struck by a pair of sharp comebackers in a March 2 spring appearance against the Angels, he said that he had never absorbed that kind of hit before.
The next career first Blackburn experiences should feel much more pleasant.
Blackburn, MLBPipeline.com's No. 12 Giants prospect, appears destined to pitch for the Giants at some juncture this season. The right-hander is widely considered to be at the front of the line for a promotion when the Giants need help in the starting rotation. He commanded respect by leading the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with a 2.85 ERA last season for Triple-A Sacramento, and he bolstered the organization's confidence in him by reporting to Spring Training in excellent physical condition -- something which eluded him in previous years.
"He came into camp in better shape than the year before and he came in ready to go," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "Almost from the very beginning of our side sessions and all those early things, he was sharp. You can tell when certain guys are a little bit ahead of other guys. They're spinning the breaking balls with touch. He had that from the beginning, I thought."
Aware of his reputation for indifferent conditioning, Blackburn made a priority of finding a personal trainer and an exercise program that suited him.
"I just feel a lot better and a lot more prepared and that gives me more confidence," said Blackburn, a 16th-round selection in the 2011 Draft.
The 23-year-old has equipped himself for the Majors by improving the movement on his fastball and gaining mastery of his slider, curveball and changeup. He always has possessed admirable control, having walked 108 while striking out 504 in 518 2/3 professional innings.
Though Blackburn is poised to sustain the lineage of homegrown Giants pitchers, he lacks Madison Bumgarner's dominance, Tim Lincecum's flair for the spectacular or Matt Cain's imposing imperturbability. He just wins -- 33-21 lifetime, including 10-4 with Sacramento last year, when he missed the season's first month with a sore shoulder, left the starting rotation to clear room for Cain on his injury rehabilitation stint and posted a 1.98 ERA in six August starts.
"He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch a little bit," Righetti said. "And in the right circumstances -- our ballpark being one of them -- I think he can flourish someday."