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03/02/10 4:01 PM EST

Twins begin spring slate against Red Sox

Blackburn to start with Slowey to relieve in first game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are set to open up Target Field next month with a three-game set against the Red Sox. So perhaps it's only fitting that their Grapefruit League schedule begins the same way this week.

The Twins will kick off Grapefruit League action on the road Thursday at 6:05 p.m. CT against the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. Right-hander Nick Blackburn is set to start for the Twins with Kevin Slowey backing him up, while Josh Beckett will start for Boston. It's the first of three straight contests with the Red Sox, the Twins' Spring Training neighbor in Fort Myers, Fla.

On Tuesday, manager Ron Gardenhire announced his starting lineup for the opener on Thursday vs. Boston. Denard Span will lead things off playing center field, followed by Alexi Casilla at second, Jason Kubel at DH and Michael Cuddyer in right field. Jacque Jones will bat fifth and play left with Brendan Harris at third, Brock Peterson at first, Drew Butera catching and Matt Tolbert at shortstop.

Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau won't make their spring debuts until the following day, when the Twins host their spring home opener at Hammond Stadium at 12:05 p.m.

With a night game on Thursday against the Red Sox followed by a day game on Friday at home, Gardenhire said that he wanted to balance his lineups so no players would have to make the quick turnaround.

"You can't really turn around and play guys [in both a] night game and a day game," Gardenhire said. "So we sent a nice ballclub over there to face Beckett, we got a nice ballclub to play right here. A lot of good players. You have to mix and match when you start off with a night game and then have a day game."

Carl Pavano will make his spring debut in that Friday contest against Boston at Hammond Stadium, while Jon Lester will pitch for Boston. Francisco Liriano will then travel across town with the team to pitch Saturday's contest at City of Palms Park at 12:05 p.m., with John Lackey starting for the Red Sox.

The three games vs. the Red Sox are also the start to the Mayor's Cup competition, which will feature a total of seven games between the two clubs this spring.

Scott Baker and Brian Duensing will start for the Twins on Sunday, when half of the team travels to Bradenton to face the Pittsburgh Pirates at 12:05 p.m., and the other half stays home to face the New York Yankees at Hammond Stadium at 12:05 p.m. in a split squad. The rotation then will reset next Monday, with Blackburn and Slowey pitching against the Orioles in Sarasota at 12:05 p.m.

Glen Perkins, who will compete with Liriano and Duensing for the fifth spot in the rotation, is expected to back up one of the starters during the first couple games, although the exact date has not yet been determined.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.