Twins' P Liriano looks to be back on track

Twins' P Liriano looks to be back on track

Published Jun. 5, 2012 10:46 p.m. ET

Since being inserted back into Minnesota's starting rotation, Francisco Liriano has looked like the Liriano of old. Including Tuesday's start against Kansas City, Liriano has allowed just one run over his last 12 innings.

But Liriano wasn't helped out at all by his offense Tuesday, as the Twins fell, 1-0, to Bruce Chen and the Royals. Still, it's an encouraging sign that perhaps Liriano might not be a lost cause after all.

In six innings of work Tuesday, Liriano struck out eight batters and allowed just one run on four hits and one walk. He now has a 0.75 ERA, 16 strikeouts and just three walks in his two starts after being put back into the rotation last week.

"That's what we were hoping for, come back and throw the ball over the plate and get into the second half of games and give us a chance, and he did that again," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Tuesday's loss. "He's throwing the ball well."

Prior to his demotion to the bullpen, Liriano was 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA and walked 19 batters in 26 2/3 innings. While pitching in relief, Liriano made five appearances, allowing four runs on seven hits and seven walks in 7 1/3 innings.

But Tuesday, Liriano looked more like the pitcher he was during his dominant rookie year in 2006, or at least in 2010 when he was 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA. His slider was fooling hitters, and he was able to locate his fastball.

"We didn't know what to expect with Francisco. He's been up and down. They put him in the pen," said Royals outfielder Jeff Francouer, who struck out twice against Liriano. "We saw his last start and it looked like he was as good tonight as he's been since I've seen him."

In Tuesday's impressive outing, Liriano accomplished something rarely done in baseball. In fact, it's only been done one other time in Twins history. In the fourth inning Tuesday, Liriano struck out four batters, something that had been previously accomplished just 25 times in the American League.

Liriano led off the fourth inning by striking out Mike Moustakas on 10 pitches. He then got Francouer swinging at a wild pitch. The ball got away from catcher Drew Butera, allowing Francouer to advance to first on the swinging strikeout.

With one out but two strikeouts already in the inning, Liriano then fanned Eric Hosmer on four pitches and struck out Brayan Pena in a six-pitch at-bat for his fourth strikeout of the fourth inning.

The only run Liriano allowed — the only run scored all game, for that matter — came in the second inning. After a one-out single by Francouer, Hosmer grounded into a forceout as Minnesota was unable to turn what would have been an inning-ending double play. Hosmer then stole second and later scored on a single to left by Brayan Pena for what would hold up as the game-winning run.

"We just missed a double play over there, and that ended up costing us the one run, the lone run," Gardenhire said. "But we were happy with Frankie."

With the way Liriano was pitching earlier in the year — erratically giving up at least four runs a game in short starts — Minnesota couldn't have asked for much more from the left-hander over his last two starts. His offense did him no favors Tuesday, but Liriano still provided a glimmer of hope for the 21-34 Twins.

"I don't know if him moving to the pen lit a fire under him or what, but he's good," Francouer said. "When he gets ahead, gets that first pitch over, it makes everything else really good. I was really impressed with him. It's a good sign obviously for Minnesota and their fans, because he's back on track."

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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