MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Francisco Liriano faced runners at the corners with only one out in the seventh.
This was precisely the type of situation where he’s faltered so many times before, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t budge.
“I just have a lot of confidence in him,” Gardenhire said.
Liriano deftly navigated his way out of the jam while spoiling Kevin Youkilis’ first game with Chicago, pitching a season-high seven innings to lead the Twins to a 4-1 victory over the White Sox on Monday night.
“I’m more relaxed. I’m not trying to make a perfect pitch,” Liriano said. “I’m not worried about the runners like I was before.”
Making his first start against the rival White Sox since his no-hitter in Chicago nearly 14 months ago, Liriano (2-7) allowed just three singles, two walks and a double. The lefty struck out five, winning for the first time this month while holding the White Sox without a run until Alexei Ramirez’s sacrifice fly in the seventh.
Jared Burton notched the save for the second straight game for the Twins, filling in for injured closer Matt Capps.
Youkilis singled in the eighth inning for his first hit as Chicago’s new third baseman, acquired in a trade with Boston on Sunday, but that was too little too late for Jake Peavy (6-4), who fell to 0-3 in his five June starts.
“Offensively, we just seem to be in a funk,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Eventually, it’ll happen. Hopefully it happens tomorrow.”
Liriano won’t be pitching, so they’ll have a better chance then.
“He was throwing his fastball and commanding it where he wants,” Youkilis said. “When he can do that, he’s one of the best pitchers there is, like in the past.”
Liriano was so lost on the mound in his first six starts this season the pitching-thin Twins had no choice but to bump him to the bullpen, where he still struggled until their staff became so depleted they had no alternative but to put him back in the rotation.
He responded with six shutout innings that day against Oakland, and despite two losses and two no-decisions since then his renaissance features a 2.41 ERA with 40 strikeouts and only 20 hits and one home run allowed in 37 1-3 innings.
Liriano walked Paul Konerko with two outs in the fourth, and Alex Rios followed with a sharp single. But he struck out A.J. Pierzynski, the guy the Twins traded to get him and two others from San Francisco in 2003, on a fastball diving toward the dirt in the mid-90s-mph range.
Not until the seventh did Liriano truly find trouble, but he escaped it with minimal damage.
Rios led off with a double and took third on a wild pitch. Pierzynski hit a hard comebacker that Liriano managed to stop with his shoe and freeze Rios while throwing to first for the out. But he had two strikes on Dayan Viciedo before throwing three straight balls for a walk, the last of which bounced in the dirt and hit catcher Drew Butera below the waist. He was doubled over in pain for a bit before retaking his place behind the plate.
Then came Ramirez, who singled twice earlier and hit one deep enough to right field that Rios could jog home. Gordon Beckham then bounced into a fielder’s choice, ending the inning.
“He just decided he was going to trust his fastball and throw the ball over the plate and see what happened,” Gardenhire said.
Adam Dunn, well on his way toward breaking the single-season strikeout record of 223, set by Mark Reynolds with Arizona in 2009, whiffed three times against Liriano and once more against Glen Perkins to raise his total for the year to 119.
Peavy struck out seven and walked one in six innings, but he gave up 10 hits and could have allowed a lot more than the three runs the Twins scored over the first two frames.
In the first inning, Denard Span hit the first of his two doubles and scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Mauer, putting Minnesota in front. In the second, a throwing error by Rios from right field let one run score. Jamey Carroll drove in the next one with a single.
Mauer had three hits, and Ben Revere topped him with his second four-hit performance in the last four games to raise his batting average in 26 games since May 26 to .368. Trevor Plouffe tacked on another run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh, but the Twins were fortunate their pitching was so tough. They left 13 men on base.
NOTES: Liriano has won five straight decisions against the White Sox, dating to July 16, 2010. .. Dunn has three four-strikeout games this year. He has avoided fanning only four times in his 71 starts this season. … This was Liriano’s longest appearance since he finished seven innings in beating the Yankees here last Aug. 20.