ARLINGTON -- When Nick Blackburn was sent down to Triple-A Rochester a little less than a month ago, he took the approach that perhaps this was the best thing for him.

His struggles, a 1-6 record with a 9.88 ERA in nine starts after June 1, had led to his removal from the Twins' rotation in mid-July. And while he originally was moved into the club's bullpen, the feeling within the organization was that Blackburn needed the opportunity to pitch on a regular basis in the Minors in order to get his sinker back and to regain some confidence.

"It was kind of a relief to go down there and work on some stuff," Blackburn said of his stint in Rochester. "I went down there and was excited to go to work and just pitch with no pressure. I think going down there with that attitude was what I needed to have happen, and I think it probably paid off."

Following Blackburn's first start back with the Twins on Monday night, it certainly looked like that was the case.

The right-hander gave up three earned runs on eight hits over seven innings to the Rangers. Blackburn's strong outing was overshadowed in the contest thanks to the near no-hit effort by the Texas pitching staff, but the results clearly were a positive for a pitcher that the Twins believe is a big part of their future.

The reports from Rochester had been that Blackburn had regained his sinker while going 1-0 with a 2.49 ERA in four Triple-A starts, and he had the pitch working for him against Texas. He recorded 11 groundouts while having just three flyouts -- a sign that the pitch had started to regain its natural movement.

"I was battling my mechanics a little bit and I was trying to make things happen," Blackburn said. "Once I went down [to Rochester], I relied a lot on that sinker, just trying to move it around and try to get outs with it. I think that's kind of what happened. I think [Monday night], my sinker was the best it's been up here so far this season."

Blackburn pitched better on Monday night than even his stats indicated. He gave up two first-inning runs after a botched play on ground ball hit by Josh Hamilton with two outs kept the inning alive. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that second baseman Orlando Hudson played too far back on the play, allowing Hamilton to beat out the infield hit. The Rangers took advantage of the break when David Murphy hit a two-run triple.

"We didn't make a play," Gardenhire said. "That was disappointing because it cost us two runs early, and Blackie threw too well for that."

The last run that Blackburn allowed in the game came in the fifth, when shortstop J.J. Hardy skipped a throw past Michael Cuddyer at first on what should have been an inning-ending double play. And the poor throw resulted in another run scoring.

Still, it was Blackburn's first quality start for the Twins since June 12, and only the second he had thrown following a fantastic month of May, when he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, putting himself in the running for AL Pitcher of the Month. So while the final result wasn't what the Twins had hoped for against the Rangers, there were plenty of positives for Blackburn to take from his first outing back with Minnesota.

"Just to go out and compete was big for me," Blackburn said. "To be able to execute everything I was executing while I was in Rochester was good. I was able to keep my nerves under control and just go out and do what I've been doing for the last couple weeks."

Butera in; Mauer, not Thome, starts at DH

ARLINGTON -- Jim Thome has performed well in a small career sample size against Rangers starter Colby Lewis, but Thome was not in the starting lineup to face Lewis in Minnesota's contest at Texas on Tuesday.

With Drew Butera serving as the personal catcher for Twins starter Carl Pavano, manager Ron Gardenhire said he had to slot Joe Mauer in the designated hitter spot on Tuesday night and leave Thome on the bench.

Thome is 4-for-6 against Lewis with a home run and five RBIs. But while Thome has strong numbers against Lewis, Gardenhire said that starting Mauer behind the plate in order to get Thome in the lineup was not really an option.

"Pavano's catcher is Butera," Gardenhire said. "There is no messing with that. They've asked for that, and it's what it is. So it's just one of those days that falls on a bad day for Thome because he has numbers. Mauer is not going to sit out. He needs to be in the lineup, too. We like to have him in there as much as we can. Sometimes it just works out this way."

Butera has caught each of Pavano's last nine starts, dating back to July 11, and entering Tuesday, Pavano held a 6-2 record in those starts.

So Gardenhire was asked what might happen if the Twins make the playoffs and Pavano pitches. Would Butera still catch in that situation or would Mauer?

"That's putting the cart before the horse," Gardenhire said.

Mahay to get second opinion on shoulder

ARLINGTON -- Twins left-hander Ron Mahay is expected to get a second opinion on the torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder before a decision will be made on whether he will have surgery.

Since the injury is to Mahay's non-pitching shoulder, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that there has been no determination yet if Mahay's season is over or if he might have a chance to return.

"We'll let him get checked out by another doctor and let all of that take its place," Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire backs ex-teammate Washington

ARLINGTON -- Rangers manager Ron Washington has already been mentioned as a potential American League Manager of the Year candidate for the job he's done this season, as his club entered Tuesday with an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL West.

One person that seems to be quite happy for Washington is Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. The two were teammates during Spring Training in 1987, when both were competing for the final spot on the Twins' 25-man roster, although it ended up going to Al Newman. Prior to that, Washington had spent parts of six seasons with the Twins from 1981-86.

"Wash was in our organization and he knows what we liked over here, and I think he enjoys that part, playing the game hard," Gardenhire said of Washington's managing philosophy. "He was with Oakland a number of years, and they always played the game hard, and I think when he came over here, that was one of the things he was going to bring here.

"He's a very motivational person. He does well motivating people. He loves the game of baseball. He has a very deep passion for it, and it shows in his team because they are playing with a lot of passion."