After catching line drive in face, Blackburn still slotted for next start

MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Blackburn pointed to the seam imprint on his upper lip that still lingered a day after he was hit in the face by a line drive from Bobby Abreu.

Blackburn's lip was still plenty swollen and he had headaches on Monday, but the Twins rookie feels lucky that is all he has to complain about after the frightening play in the fifth inning of Minnesota's 5-1 victory over the Yankees on Sunday.

"It feels way better than I thought it possibly could," Blackburn said.

The Twins said Blackburn will throw his regularly scheduled bullpen session on Tuesday and is still slotted to make his next start on Friday against the Chicago White Sox.

The good news allowed manager Ron Gardenhire to stick with his plan of demoting struggling right-hander Boof Bonser from the starting rotation to the bullpen once Scott Baker returns from the disabled list, which is scheduled to happen on Thursday.

Baker has been on the disabled list since May 7 with a strained right groin. He will throw a bullpen session on Tuesday and is slotted as the starter on Thursday in Chicago.

Bonser is 2-6 with a 5.97 ERA and Gardenhire is hoping his move to the bullpen will help bolster what has been an overworked group of relievers.

"We're going to use him however we can," Gardenhire said. "I'm not afraid to put him in anywhere out there."

Injuries to Baker and Pat Neshek have strained the pitching staff, while infielders Matt Tolbert (thumb), Nick Punto (hamstring), Adam Everett (shoulder) and Justin Morneau (calf) have Gardenhire scrambling with his lineup.

Punto is listed as day-to-day and Morneau gutted it out on Monday night in the series finale against New York despite a strained calf and a sore left knee after he fouled a pitch off it on Sunday.

"I think our roster situation is not very good," Gardenhire said. "We just don't have many options. Punto's going to have to play through his hamstring. We'll do the best we can. That's all there is to it."

Punto said he was available to play on Monday and Blackburn said he is anxious to get back out there and see if there is any hesitation after being hit in the head for the first time in his baseball career.

Yankee veteran Mike Mussina was hit in the head by a line-drive off the bat of Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1998 while pitching for Baltimore and said it took him the rest of the season before he could throw a pitch without flinching.

Mussina, however, was hit flush above the right eye, while Blackburn was able to get just a little bit of his glove on Abreu's drive before it hit him and sent him sprawling to the turf.

The big test will come Friday when he is back on the mound for the first time. Mussina was one of several Yankees to talk to him after the game, but Blackburn didn't anticipate any adverse effect on his performance.

"Hopefully it doesn't affect me. We'll see," Blackburn said. "I can't answer that right now. I don't imagine that I will. I'm not scared of getting back on the mound. It probably won't happen again."

Blackburn's mother was at the game, and she rushed downstairs to the trainer's room to check on her son and call the family to give updates and ease concerns.

"It was a scary deal," Blackburn said. "Hopefully it won't happen again, but it could have been a lot worse."

Blackburn has watched a few replays, something he doesn't believe he would have been able to do if his injuries were more severe.

"If there was more damage done, it probably wouldn't have been as easy to watch," Blackburn said. "But just knowing that I came out of it with a swollen lip and a bloody nose, it's not that big a deal. You can do that falling off a bike."

Fall off a bike much, Nick?

"Yeah a couple times," he said, cracking a smile. "Not recently though."