Orioles-Twins Preview

With the non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching,

Francisco Liriano’s days with the Minnesota Twins could be

numbered.

His stock likely went way up after his most recent outing.

Liriano looks to build on his career-high 15-strikeout

performance Wednesday night as the Twins continue a four-game set

with the slumping Baltimore Orioles at Target Field.

While the oft-injured left-hander hasn’t really been the same

since undergoing Tommy John surgery following his spectacular 2006

rookie campaign, Liriano (3-8, 4.93 ERA) has shown glimpses of that

form over the past few seasons.

He was at his best Friday against Oakland, making one costly

mistake – a grand slam by Jonny Gomes – over eight otherwise

dominant innings. He gave up three earned runs, four hits and one

walk in a 6-3 loss.

“His stuff was (like in ’06),” manager Ron Gardenhire told the

Twins’ official website. “Disappearing. We saw hitters swinging and

actually looking up like, ‘What was that?’

“He did everything you’re supposed to do as a pitcher. He made

one bad pitch after we made some mistakes. I tip my hat to him, son

of a gun, that was fun to watch.”

Liriano, who went 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA over his first six starts

of 2012 before being sent to the bullpen, has gone 3-3 with a 2.83

ERA while striking out 67 over 57 1-3 innings spanning nine outings

since rejoining the rotation May 30.

“I think his confidence is high right now, and that’s the key to

his success,” catcher Drew Butera said. “He’s not afraid. He goes

right after them. He knows his stuff is good enough to get

outs.”

With Liriano’s recent success, however, comes some uncertainty

surrounding his future with the team. Liriano, who can become a

free agent after this season, is one of a handful of players who

could be traded prior to July 31.

“It’s casual conversation, as usual,” Gardenhire said. “Just

walking through and talking to guys. You’ve got players asking,

‘What you do you hear? What’s going on?’ But I don’t go out there

and talk trades with them.”

After snapping a five-game overall losing streak and a

seven-game skid in this series with Monday’s 19-7 victory,

Minnesota (38-52) added to Baltimore’s recent woes with Tuesday’s

6-4 win. Batting .400 over his last 23 games, Joe Mauer had three

more hits and an RBI as the Twins improved to 21-9 when he drives

in at least one run.

“It’s kind of one of those, ‘Oh well, it’s Joe again’ type

things,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve seen that before. He’s won a lot

of batting titles doing that same thing. He can flat-out hit. The

bottom line is the guy can hit.”

Baltimore (46-44) has lost six of seven overall and nine of 12

on the road to drop 10 games behind AL East-leading New York.

“We just need to put it back together,” shortstop J.J. Hardy

said. “It’s been a rough couple of games. We need to turn it

around.”

With Jason Hammel (right knee surgery) out for at least a month,

the Orioles are expected to recall Tommy Hunter (3-4, 6.11) from

Triple-A Norfolk to take the hill Wednesday. The right-hander gave

up a combined 24 runs over his last five starts spanning 28 1-3

innings before being moved to the bullpen and ultimately sent down

June 30.

He’s been hit especially hard on the road, going 0-3 with an

8.07 ERA over six starts.

Hunter, though, beat Liriano during an 8-2 home victory April 7,

allowing two unearned runs over seven-plus innings. Liriano yielded

six runs and a season-high eight hits over four innings in that

game, dropping to 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA in this series.