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MIN@KC: Blackburn earns win in his return from the DL

Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn enters Friday's start against the Royals fresh off his two best starts of the year. Unfortunately for Blackburn, those outings came with Triple-A Rochester, where he spent the last two weeks trying to find his command.

Blackburn will look to carry that newfound success, albeit in the Minors, into his return to the Twins, with whom he's had little success in 2012. The righty went 4-5 with an unsightly 8.10 ERA in 13 starts in the season's first half, prompting the demotion to Rochester.

With the Red Wings, however, Blackburn lasted at least seven innings in each of his two starts -- something he hasn't done once with the Twins this season -- and allowed just one earned run in 15 combined innings.

"I went down there and got to pitch seven or eight innings each time out. It was a great feeling to do that," Blackburn said. "I don't care what level you're at, when you haven't done that all year, to go get that done was a big accomplishment and confidence booster.

"I think it was a good trip down there. Obviously, I'm excited to get back up here and challenge hitters and see what I've got."

The Royals will counter with righty Luke Hochevar, who has spent the past month making some strides of his own. Hochevar started the season just 3-7 with a 6.27 ERA through his first 13 starts, but enters Friday's series opener 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in his five starts since.

He settled for a no-decision his last time out, despite exiting Saturday's contest against the White Sox with a 3-2 lead. Manager Ned Yost tried to get Hochevar through six innings, but the righty started the frame by serving up a monstrous home run to Adam Dunn and a base knock to Paul Konerko.

"After the long home run by Dunn and the base hit by Konerko, I made a decision that we were going to bring in a fresh arm and see if we couldn't protect a one-run lead," Yost said. "And we just couldn't do it at that point."

Twins: Healthy Gardenhire returns to dugout
• Manager Ron Gardenhire returned to the dugout Thursday for the Twins' series finale after leaving Wednesday night's game with flu-like symptoms. Gardenhire doesn't anticipate any lasting effects from the illness and plans to remain in the dugout in Kansas City.

"I'm good," Gardenhire said Thursday. "It was just a little stomach virus [Wednesday] night, so I shut it down."

Royals: Hosmer dropped back to sixth
• In a continued effort to help first baseman Eric Hosmer snap out of his season-long slump, manager Yost dropped his slugger from third to sixth in the Royals batting lineup for Thursday's series finale. Hosmer went 2-for-4 with a double in the new role.

Hosmer hit either third or fourth in each of the Royals' first 29 games this season, but he has since also spent time hitting second, sixth, seventh and even eighth. Prior to Thursday, his last 11 starts had come in the three-hole.

"I'm just trying to put him in a position where the weight of the world is not on his shoulders hitting in the three-spot and just go from there," Yost said. "He'll gather it back. I don't like moving guys in the order if I can at all avoid it. But it just got to a point where we had to do it."

Hosmer is hitting .225 with nine homers and 40 RBIs this season.

Worth noting
• Joe Mauer is 11-for-23 [.478] with two doubles, a triple and a home run in his career against Hochevar.

• Denard Span, meanwhile, is just 3-for-22 [.136] against the right-hander.

• The Royals, already trailing the head-to-head series 6-3 this year, haven't won the season series over the Twins since 2003.

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