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Nick Blackburn Quietly Becoming One of Baseball's Best

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Starting pitcher Nick Blackburn #53 of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game on September 19, 2008 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Andrew KneelandSenior Writer IJuly 6, 2009

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, while others have simply been great all along without you noticing.

Nick Blackburn has been great for quite a long time, but people have just begun to notice after the 27-year-old right-hander notched his third complete game of the season on Sunday.

Blackburn has done almost exactly what the Minnesota Twins have wanted of him over the course of his young career. His rookie season, 2008, resulted in a pedestrian 11-11 record. His decent 4.05 ERA, however, helped place him eighth in Rookie of the Year voting.

A cutting fastball to rival Mariano Rivera, Blackburn has effectively mixed in his above-average curveballs and changeups. Like most control pitchers, Blackburn won't blow his pitches by you with incredible speed; instead, he relies upon pinpoint accuracy to paint the corners of the strike zone.

Although he is walking more than last year, Blackburn has induced more ground balls than ever before. Balls hit into play on the ground are almost always converted into outs, thanks to the above-average Twins' defense.

While the defense playing behind him may have some impact on his sub-three ERA, Blackburn's complete game on July 5 didn't enlist the aid of a single double-play. Instead, he simply retired Detroit batter after Detroit batter, putting up goose-eggs on the scoreboard the entire time. Eight goose-eggs in a row, actually. (His armor didn't receive a two-run dent until the ninth inning.)

Blackburn was extremely effective on Sunday, four times using under 10 pitches to get through an inning. On the face of things it appears that he only threw one poor pitch, resulting in a two-run shot off the bat of Brandon Inge, but in reality his poorer pitches simply weren't poor enough to result in any insurmountable damage.

He isn't putting up glamorous strikeout numbers, nor is he garnering the wins he probably deserves. Instead, Nick Blackburn is pitching the way he always has; simply and effectively. He just hasn't been noticed yet.

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