Twins square off with old teammate, Liriano

MINNEAPOLIS — Everything about it looked strange as Francisco Liriano took the mound Tuesday. The black and gray uniform. The No. 58.

Oh, and not to mention, he was pitching to A.J. Pierzynski, a catcher he was once traded for.

Yet here Liriano was, making his White Sox debut three days after the Minnesota Twins traded him to rival Chicago. During his seven seasons with the Twins, Liriano was both brilliant and bafflingly inconsistent — sometimes in the same game. This is the guy who tossed a no-hitter last season and was demoted to the bullpen in 2012.

Given his roller coaster tenure in Minnesota, Liriano’s former teammates had no idea what to expect when they faced him for the first time in a different uniform.

As it turned out, the Twins faced Liriano during one of his better outings of the season. The new Chicago left-hander went six innings, allowed two hits on four runs and struck out eight as the White Sox beat Liriano’s former team 4-3.

“I will tell you this. Our hitters were coming back in saying, ‘He is nasty,'” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “We played behind him, but facing him, our hitters were saying he threw some balls that were disappearing tonight. Tip your hat to him.”

Only two current Twins hitters had faced Liriano before Tuesday — outfielder Josh Willingham when he was with Oakland last season and infielder Jamey Carroll in nine at-bats. Carroll was 0-for-5 with four walks previously against Liriano, while Willingham was 1-for-2 with a home run last season with the A’s.

On Tuesday, Liriano stymied some of the Twins’ best hitters. He struck out Joe Mauer and Willingham twice each, while also walking both in the sixth inning. Center fielder Denard Span was one of the few to have success against Liriano, as he had two of the four hits allowed by Liriano — singles in the first and third innings.

“His slider coming out of his hand looked like a fastball. It’s tough to lay off of,” Span said. “I got lucky twice and stuck my butt out and waved the bat and was able to find two hits.”

Liriano also gave up a pair of infield singles to Darin Mastroianni and Danny Valencia in the Twins’ two-run sixth inning. Yet with the bases loaded and two outs, Liriano got shortstop Brian Dozier to fly out to deep left field to work out of a jam.

It was perhaps a familiar site for the 36,424 in attendance Tuesday night at Target Field.

“That’s what he has. He has the ability to get out of jams,” Mastroianni said of Liriano. “He’s a strikeout pitcher that can make you miss the barrel. Even when you think you have him on the ropes — Minnesota people have seen him do this for years — you think you have him on the ropes, or you think you’re going to blow the inning open, and he gets you to pop up or strikeout or ground into a double play, he’s just got that kind of stuff that gets you to miss the barrel.”

Earlier this season, Liriano was demoted to the Twins’ bullpen after going 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts. But after returning to Minnesota’s rotation, Liriano posted a 3.68 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 66 innings (11 starts). His final outing as a Twin was his worst since moving back into the rotation — he gave up seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings to, ironically enough, the White Sox.

Now, Liriano has been given a fresh start, a chance to pitch for a contender. But Tuesday’s scenario was a bit odd for Liriano as well, he admitted. He didn’t join the White Sox on Sunday after being traded, instead staying in the Twin Cities to wait for their arrival Monday. And when he finally took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, he faced the only team he’s spent time with in the majors.

“It was kind of weird to me, the first couple innings,” Liriano said. “But (pitching coach Don Cooper) just said to me, it’s another game for me and try and go out there and make some good pitches and try to do my job. It was kind of weird, but I had to forget about that and do a good job.”

It was only one game, but Liriano showed first-place Chicago what he’s capable of on a good night. And he did so against his former team, reminding the Twins of the type of arm they traded away.

“Frankie did his thing. He threw the ball well,” Gardenhire said. “He got in the same situations he gets in with us. He just worked his way out of them. He battled for them. That’s exactly what he’s going to get out of him. You’re going to get battles.”

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