BLAINE, Minn. -- The Twins will have six starting pitchers competing for five spots in the rotation during Spring Training. Two of those pitchers, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, are coming off cleanup surgeries on their elbows this offseason. But both right-handers said on Saturday at TwinsFest that everything has gone well with their recovery.Baker and Blackburn both had bone chips removed from their elbows back in October. So far, they appear ready to go for the start of Spring Training. "Usually, at the beginning of the throwing program in the offseason, it's kind of sensitive," Blackburn said. "But this year, with the rehab that I did for my elbow, I got my shoulder a little bit more prepared. The first couple times I threw, it felt amazing. "I could already see a little bit of life to the ball when I was only throwing 60 feet, so it was exciting. It's been feeling pretty good so far." Baker also reported positive strides following his surgery, which was performed by Mets physician David Altchek. It was the first baseball-related surgery for Baker, who had to endure two cortisone shots in his elbow last season to get him through the second half of the season. "I've long-tossed, and so far I've thrown off the mound four times," Baker said. "I really haven't started spinning breaking balls, just fastballs and changeups. And I'm probably a week behind where I would normally be. "I've been fortunate. [My elbow] feels good. I've got all this newfound range of motion. We'll see what I can do with it." Blackburn is coming off a disappointing 2010 season in which he spent some time at Triple-A Rochester to get himself back in form. The hope for Blackburn is that with his elbow healthy and his mechanics back in line, he can return to the form he showed in 2008 and 2009 -- when he tallied a combined 22 wins, while posting a 4.04 ERA. "Ultimately I want to be better than that," Blackburn said. "That's the goal. I don't see why I can't be, going in there with the opportunity to be fully healthy, which may not have been the case last year. I'd never stand here and say that the reason why I had a bad year last year was elbow issues, because that's not entirely true. I want to go out and have a great season. There should be no reason I don't do that, as long as I'm healthy."
Valencia taps into veterans during workouts
BLAINE, Minn. -- Twins third baseman Danny Valencia has spent the past couple of weeks working out in Miami and getting in some swings alongside some well known Major Leaguers -- including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera of the Royals.For Valencia, it's been an opportunity to learn from some of the veterans in the game while he prepares for his second season in the big leagues. "It's always nice to pick guys' brains, especially Posada," Valencia said. "You get the catcher's standpoint, which I think is helpful. I can do that with [Joe] Mauer. To hear an opposing catcher's point of view, it helps you out a lot." Valencia said he's also taken the opportunity to work on his defense with Rodriguez at third base, and that the Yankees third baseman has been very receptive to helping him out. But in addition to talking to players he's been working out with, Valencia said he's also been in constant communication this winter with Twins starter Carl Pavano. "He really gives me his perspective on my hitting, what he thinks I should do and how I should think at the plate," Valencia said. "Here's a guy with lots of years in the big leagues. He knows a lot. When I first came up, I sat next to him on the bench a lot and listened to him analyze hitters, and talk about his game plan for the next day, when he's facing these guys. "I've been in contact with him and we've discussed my hitting a bunch. Toward the end of the year, I was hitting more home runs but I was striking out more -- and he said he thought maybe I was getting a little too pull happy. He said, 'When you're going good, you're hitting the ball the other way, and that gets you going.' And I was able to go out there and do that a couple times."
Twins hope to get Liriano and Young signed
BLAINE, Minn. -- The Twins have only two arbitration cases remaining for 2011: Francisco Liriano and Delmon Young.With both Liriano and Young coming off strong seasons in 2010, there have been questions as to whether the team might be considering long-term deals for the two players. Twins general manager Bill Smith doesn't like to comment on contract negotiations, but he indicated that for now, it doesn't appear to be the case. "Right now, we're focused on trying to get them signed for 2011, and we'll go from there," Smith said. The Twins exchanged salary figures with Young and Liriano on Jan. 18. The Twins offered Young $4.65 million, while he has asked for $6.25 million. Liriano is seeking $5 million, while the club countered with $3.6 million. Both players are in their second year of arbitration-eligibility. If the Twins cannot settle on a contract amount with either player, then they'll be headed for a pair of arbitration hearings -- where a panel of arbitrators will decide between the two figures. Arbitration hearings begin Tuesday and run through Feb. 18. "It's never about whether you like the player or don't like the player -- it's just about establishing what his salary will be," Smith said. "We'll continue to work on these two guys, and if we can reach agreement, we will. If not, then there's an arbitration panel that will do it."
Target Field trees to be relocated
BLAINE, Minn. -- Michael Cuddyer understands that some fans may be upset that the black spruce trees are going to be removed from behind the center field wall at Target Field. But he said that the trees were truly causing him and his teammates concern over their safety while they were in the batter's box."The trees were beautiful," Cuddyer said. "But they cast like three different shades on the background -- right in the view of the hitter. Especially in those 3 o'clock games on Saturday, it's scary -- literally scary. It's not just that I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to see the ball to hit the ball. I'm literally scared that I'm not going to see the ball, period." Twins president Dave St. Peter said on Friday during the club's annual media luncheon that the trees were going to be removed in an effort to help the hitters see better and increase their safety. Both the Twins' hitters and opposing hitters had complained about the issue. The trees will be replanted, although it has yet to be decided whether it will be somewhere else in the ballpark or to another site.
Local Minneapolis television station KARE 11 will be running a two-part profile on the Twins' new Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka beginning this week. Mike Pomeranz of KARE visited Nishioka in Osaka, Japan, and got a detailed look into who the infielder is and how he trains. Part 1 will air on Thursday Feb. 3 at 10 p.m. CT and part 2 will run on Monday Feb. 7 at 10 p.m. CT. ... Twins president Dave St. Peter reiterated this weekend that Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew, who is currently battling esophageal cancer, remains committed to resuming his duties as a special instructor for the club during Spring Training. "I talked to Harmon and he is very determined, one way or the other, to get to Fort Myers for Spring Training," St. Peter said. ... The Twins have hired Ryo Shinkawa to be Nishioka's full-time interpreter.