Twins’ Liriano focused despite trade whispers

MINNEAPOLIS — As Francisco Liriano’s name continues to be listed among Minnesota’s top trade chips leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, the Twins left-hander hasn’t let it affect him.

In fact, he’s continued to boost his trade value.

One start after striking out 15 Oakland batters, Liriano twirled another gem Wednesday against Baltimore. The Twins lefty fanned 10 Orioles in six innings, allowing just two runs on four hits.

For the second time in a row, however, Liriano’s solid performance wasn’t enough for a win as his offense gave him very little run support. The Twins fell 2-1 on Wednesday against Tommy Hunter and the Orioles, dropping Liriano to 3-9 on the season.

Liriano’s only mistake of the night came in the first inning when he hung a pitch to Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. On an 0-1 offering from Liriano, Jones went deep to left field, crushing his 22nd homer of the season into the last few rows of the second deck in left for a two-run homer.

That first-inning blast proved to be the difference.

“What can I say. Every time I go out there, I just want to give my team a chance to win a ballgame,” Liriano said after the loss. “(Jones) got a pretty good swing on that pitch I threw out there. It wasn’t a bad pitch at all. He got a good swing on it.”

But just like his last outing when he allowed a grand slam to Oakland’s Jonny Gomes in the top of the fourth inning, he settled down after the home run. After Gomes took Liriano deep, he pitched four scoreless innings but was on the losing side as the Twins fell 6-3 to Oakland. On Wednesday, Liriano shut the Orioles down for five innings after Jones’ blast, walking three batters and giving up just four total hits.

“I’m not exactly sure he had his great stuff, but he’s got such nasty stuff that he doesn’t really need to throw strikes a lot,” said bench coach Scott Ullger, who served as the acting manager Wednesday after Ron Gardenhire left the game with a stomach virus in the fifth inning. “Guys will swing at it. The slider is late breaking and he’s got a great changeup and he throws 95 mph. He had all three working.”

With the Twins now 38-53, there could be several players on the move before the trade deadline at the end of the month. As Liriano continues to impress, his name is near the top of that list.

Several scouts have been in attendance at Target Field during Liriano’s last two starts, but Liriano insists he isn’t paying much attention to his name in the trade rumors.

“I try no to listen to it,” Liriano said. “I’m just happy to be here. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t know anything about what’s going to happen. I’m not paying attention to it. …

“I haven’t even called my agent to ask about it. I don’t want to think about it too much.”

In Liriano’s last two starts, he’s struck out 25 batters and allowed five earned runs in 14 innings — yet he picked up losses in each game. Since he returned to the Twins’ rotation in late May after his demotion to the bullpen, Liriano has 77 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 63 1/3 innings. He’s posted a 2.84 ERA during that stretch after his 9.45 ERA in his first six starts before his demotion.

“He’s been excellent since he’s been back in the starting rotation,” said Twins right fielder Ben Revere. “It seems like every time he throws … we wait for our offense to get cooking. He just battles and battling. Hopefully the rest of the year we give him some run support.”

But will Liriano get another start in a Minnesota uniform? For a Twins team looking to sell before the deadline, Liriano may be their most valuable commodity. The time to sell may be now.

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