Reds 1, Twins 0
Francisco Liriano surrendered his first home run of the spring on Friday, but the Minnesota Twins' pitcher has not lost his focus on returning to his 2006 form. Liriano struck out five and walked one in 3 1-3 innings in front of a sellout crowd at Hammond Stadium in a 1-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. "He was still effective," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Very effective." Reds right-hander Micah Owings, hoping to be the team's fifth starter, struck out four and gave up no runs and two hits in four innings. He has a 1.23 ERA after four spring starts. Jonny Gomes, a non-roster invitee for the Reds, slugged the homer over the left-field fence in the third inning. "My fastball was going all over the place," said Liriano, who walked one and gave up three hits. "I'm not trying to strike out people. I'm just trying to locate my fastball." Liriano had no problems doing just that in 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA, striking out 144 batters in 16 starts and 28 appearances, only to suffer a left elbow injury that wiped out his 2007 season. Last year, Liriano went 6-4 with a 3.91 ERA in 14 big-league starts, striking out 67 batters in 76 innings, a promising comeback, Gardenhire said. During Liriano's rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, he abandoned the slider and improved his changeup. "He got away from it, especially during the comeback," Gardenhire said of the slider. "In the process of throwing the fastball, he learned to locate it a little better. And then the changeup, rather than that hard snap of the wrist." Gardenhire compared Liriano's current changeup to that of former Twins teammate Johan Santana, who is now with the New York Mets. "Santana's is about the best you'll ever see," Gardenhire said. "Watching him the other day, he was pretty close. "I think there's a confidence level now. He really has no worries about anything. Developing the changeup has really helped his mindset. It has made him a pitcher." Gomes is competing with former Twins outfielder Jacque Jones and Chris Dickerson for the open starting spot in left field or a bench outfielder role. He bolstered his chances with the homer, his third of the spring. Gomes went 2-for-3 to boost his spring average to .364. Dickerson, who started in center field, went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and is hitting .348. Jones, who has a lifetime .230 batting average against left-handed pitchers, struck out against Liriano and went 0-for-3 starting in left field. He lowered his spring batting average to .087. "He hasn't found his stroke yet," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "We've seen a lot of left-handed pitchers so far. I know he can play. For whatever reason, sometimes you lose your stroke. When you're trying to make the team, you don't have a choice." Notes: A number of World Baseball Classic players returned for each team. For the Twins, Canadians Justin Morneau started at 1B and went 1-for-2, and RHP Jesse Crain struck out one and gave up one hit in 1 2-3 innings. SS Nick Punto returned form Team Italy. But he will remain out, probably until Sunday, with a swollen right arm after getting hit by a pitch. ... For the Reds, 1B Joey Votto returned from Team Canada and went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts. Edinson Volquez of the Dominican Republic struck out two and gave up one hit in three innings. Dominican teammate Johnny Cueto is scheduled to pitch Sunday. ... Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn, who has been out of the rotation with a sore, left knee, is scheduled to follow fellow starter Glen Perkins in Sunday's game in Tampa against the Yankees.