Liriano to skip Saturday start in ‘step back’

MINNEAPOLIS — Apparently, taking a step back means skipping a start for Minnesota left-hander Francisco Liriano.

After Liriano gave up five runs in five innings in Sunday’s 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the team would “take a step back” regarding what to do with Liriano. Gardenhire announced before Monday’s game that Liriano’s next scheduled start on Saturday against Kansas City would be skipped. Instead, Liriano will pitch Tuesday in Anaheim.

“It’s about being able to relax on the mound and he knows that. He actually says he has confidence,” Gardenhire said. “But he’ll tell you straight out that when he gets men out there, he starts spinning them. So he’s got to be able to control that. It’s a work in progress. We’re letting him take a step back and relax a little bit.”

Liriano has now allowed five earned runs in each of his four starts this season. After Sunday’s outing against the Rays — in which he issued four walks and also hit a batter — Liriano’s ERA is now at 11.02. He’s given up three home runs in four starts and walked more batters (13) than he’s struck out (12).

“I’m not throwing strikes,” Liriano said Monday. “That’s the main thing for me right now is not throwing strikes, not hitting my spot, getting behind in the count too much.”

Some wondered if perhaps a trip to the bullpen would suit Liriano best. He’s been effective in the first inning of games this season — in fact, he has yet to allow a first-inning run. But he has run into trouble in the second, third and fourth innings. He’s posted an ERA of 13.50 in the second inning of games. That number jumps to 21.60 in the third inning.

Still, Gardenhire wants to keep Liriano in the rotation.

“I don’t want him to come out of the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to skip a start, relax here, throw a couple bullpen sessions, take a load off and get back out there. Believe me, we went through all of this. Every bit of it. More than you can imagine. … We’re going to do what’s right for him, and it’s not coming out of the bullpen and getting in trouble out there if you happen to do that.”

Prior to the start of the season, the Twins were hoping that Liriano — who was 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA last season — had turned a corner and were encouraged by his strong numbers this spring. In seven Grapefruit League starts, Liriano was 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (33-5) was also very impressive. Once again, the 28-year-old lefthander showed signs that he might be regaining some of that magic he had during his rookie season in 2006.

But it hasn’t translated into the regular season, and Liriano isn’t sure why.

“I don’t know. I’m not doing anything different,” Liriano said when asked what’s changed since spring training. “I don’t even know what’s going on right now. I haven’t changed my mechanics or anything like that. I don’t know. The ball’s moving a little bit more than it used to.”

While Liriano insists his mechanics haven’t changed since spring, Gardenhire said there are things with Liriano’s mechanics that “he can definitely work on.” But now in his seventh season in the majors, Liriano’s issues likely stem more from the mental side of it than anything he’s doing physically.

“There’s other parts of this that we’re dealing with also, that we believe are going to really straighten some things out,” Gardenhire said. “(Pitching coach Rick Anderson) and him are going to be in long conversations. They already are. As you can see, they’re working on things, talking about things.

“He’s wide open. He’s had his struggles right now and he’s wide open. He’s searching for answers.”

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