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Blackburn feels at home with pressure on

Blackburn at home with pressure on

NEW YORK -- The Twins have tabbed Nick Blackburn as their starter against the Yankees' A.J. Burnett in Game 2 of their American League Division Series on Friday evening at 5:07 CT on TBS at Yankee Stadium.

It's the first postseason start for the right-hander, who had almost identical 11-11 seasons the past two years. He sported a 4.03 ERA in 33 starts this year; it was 4.05 ERA in 33 starts in 2008.

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"I'm not going to change my approach," Blackburn said on Thursday morning, as the Twins skipped a workout to take a necessary day off. "I'm going to try to keep them off balance. I'm going to try to move the ball around and do what I've been doing lately. I'm going to stick to my game plan. That's what's been working for me so far. I don't plan on changing anything for these guys."

During the Twins' stretch run, in which they won 17 of their final 21 games, including a one-game tiebreaker over the Tigers at the Metrodome on Tuesday night, Blackburn was 2-0 over four quality starts, while yielding only five earned runs. His outing on Saturday against the Royals was on only three days of rest. Blackburn was strong in that one, yielding two runs on four hits over seven innings of a 5-4 Minnesota win, but he didn't earn the decision.

He threw 111 pitches against Kansas City, matching the number he tossed against the Yankees in New York on May 16 in the Twins' 6-4, 11-inning loss. Blackburn yielded four runs over 7 2/3 frames in that game, receiving a no-decision in his only start against the Bombers this season.

Tale of the Tape
Game 2 starters
Twins' Nick Blackburn Yankees' A.J. Burnett
2009 REGULAR SEASON
Overall 33 GS, 11-11, 4.03 ERA, 98 K, 41 BB 33 GS, 13-9, 4.04 ERA, 195 K, 97 BB
Key stat 5 ER allowed in his past 27 1/3 innings 28 K in past 24 innings
POSTSEASON
Career First career playoff start First career playoff start
AT YANKEE STADIUM
2009 1 GS, 0-0, 4.70 ERA 16 GS, 5-3, 3.51 ERA
Career 1 GS, 0-0, 4.70 ERA 16 GS, 5-3, 3.51 ERA
AGAINST THIS OPPONENT
2009 regular season 1 GS, 0-0, 4.70 ERA 2 GS, 1-0, 2.77 ERA
Career 4 GS, 0-1, 5.89 ERA 6 GS, 2-1, 3.72 ERA
Loves to face Robinson Cano, 0-for-8 Michael Cuddyer, 2-for-13, 6 K, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Hates to face Mark Teixeira, 6-for-6, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBIs Joe Mauer, .385, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Why he'll win Twins' big-game pitcher Shut down Twins in 2009
Bottom line Must mix in offspeed pitches with sinker Throw strikes

"He's a sinker-slider guy with a nice changeup," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said about Blackburn. "He's pitched in a lot of big games for us. He's a gamer. He goes out there and gets after it. He went through a little bit of a stretch -- a little rough time -- but found his sinker again. When he has his sinker diving, he's pretty good, because he relies on location. He's not a power guy. He's been really good for us."

Blackburn, who lost last year's division tiebreaker game with the White Sox, 1-0, even though he gave up only one run on four hits before being removed with one out in the seventh inning, said he's not sure why he responds so well when the pressure is on.

"Even in big games like that, I'll still go out there and try to stick to my game plan and see where it goes," he said. "I can't really say why I go out and have good games. Last year was still a loss in that last game, so I can't look at it as it was a great game. I don't try to do too much. I try to stay within my limits, and that probably helps me out."

Blackburn was selected by the Twins in the 29th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft. He has gone 22-24 with a 4.14 ERA in a little more than two seasons.

Gardenhire said that his starter for Game 3, at the Metrodome on Sunday, is Carl Pavano, but there was no consideration of moving Pavano up for a start in New York.

"We're just trying to keep them as close to their regular days as we could," Gardenhire said on Thursday. "Actually, originally, if we could have got it done Sunday, we talked about it being really a three-starter type series and being able to use [Brian] Duensing out in the bullpen. But it didn't work out that way, so we had to make some adjustments.

"Having Blackburn pitch, with his sinker, is really pretty advantageous for us. He's been throwing the ball really well. Every game is really important, so we try to put no more importance on one than another. But Blackie, it's his time up, and we want him out there."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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