Cuddyer homers to lead Twins past Orioles

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) AL MVP Joe Mauer collected two hits before leaving the Minnesota Twins’ 8-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night with a sore right shoulder.

Before hitting his second single in the third inning, Mauer fouled a pitch off his shoulder and manager Ron Gardenhire replaced him with Drew Butera in the fourth.

Gardenhire said he would hold Mauer out of Friday’s game against the New York Mets as a precaution but he thought the All-Star catcher would be fine.

The Twins already have lost closer Joe Nathan for at least two weeks and possibly the season because of a torn ligament in his right elbow. Two potential replacements for Nathan, Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier, each threw a scoreless inning against Baltimore.

Scott Baker, slated to start on opening day for Minnesota, worked three effective innings. He limited Baltimore to five hits, including Robert Andino’s homer in the third.

But Gardenhire was most impressed with Francisco Liriano, who struck out three in two scoreless innings. After going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 2006, Liriano developed arm problems and missed all of 2007 following elbow ligament replacement surgery.

The left-hander has struggled to regain his form since, going 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA last year, but has looked good this spring.

“Liriano was outstanding,” Gardenhire said. “I thought Drew did a nice job with him. He used his fastball quite a bit. His changeup, and his breaking ball were filthy.

“It was kind of one of those outings when you were kind of disappointed when they hit the ball.”

Gardenhire said he sensed a surge in Liriano’s confidence.

“He feels really good, and the ball’s coming out of his hand well,” Gardenhire said. “He’s not afraid to throw anything. He tried locating his fastball. You saw that tonight. He has a lot of confidence. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Kevin Millwood, in line to be Baltimore’s opening-day starter, was hit hard again. He was charged with five runs and nine hits over 2 2-3 innings and has a 29.70 ERA this spring.

Millwood recorded just two outs in his first spring start and was charged with six runs.

“I stink in spring training,” Millwood said. “I’m really not a good spring training pitcher. I don’t try and win any awards in spring training. I try to get myself ready. So far, it’s worked pretty well for me.”

The 35-year-old right-hander went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 31 starts for the Texas Rangers last season.

Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said he was aware of Millwood’s struggles during the spring.

“He’s been pretty open about that,” Trembley said. “He wants work. He needs work. That’s why we’re not too concerned about it.”

NOTES: Baltimore RHP Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless inning. He hasn’t allowed a run in three innings this spring. … Twins bench coach Steve Liddle was hospitalized Thursday because of chest pains, and Gardenhire said he was concerned about him.

Updated March 11, 2010