Liriano pleased with first outing for Twins
Southpaw settles after shaky first to utilize improved fastball
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano's exploits in the Dominican Winter League have created quite a buzz around the pitcher this spring.The left-hander, who posted a 3-1 record with a 0.49 ERA in seven playoff starts for Escogido this winter, has been eager to show the Twins that his winter success can carry over into the 2010 season. And on Saturday, Liriano got his first chance at game action when he started against the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. Liriano didn't disappoint with his performance, pitching two scoreless innings while striking out three and throwing a total of 35 pitches, 23 for strikes. His outing wasn't perfect, but the Twins saw some positive signs from the pitcher -- who is competing with Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins for the fifth spot in the rotation -- particularly in his second inning of work. In the first inning, Liriano looked a little shaky as he let three of the first five batters he faced reach base. He gave up a leadoff single to Mike Cameron, hit J.D. Drew with a pitch and walked Jeremy Hermida to load the bases with two outs in the inning. But he was able to get catcher Luis Exposito to ground into a fielder's choice to end the inning. "I was a little too excited and the mound was kind of wet, too," Liriano said. "I wasn't feeling really comfortable on the mound. But I settled down." Liriano cruised through the second relatively easily, striking out the first two batters before Gil Velazquez grounded out to second base for the final out of the inning. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that early on, Liriano was throwing too many breaking balls. It was something the skipper thought might have been a result of Liriano working with a young catcher, prospect Wilson Ramos. "The second inning, he went to the fastball a bit better," Gardenhire said. "When he throws the fastball, then the other stuff looks really good. He really got into breaking ball, breaking ball, breaking ball early and he was out of whack there. But the second inning, he went back out there, and when he used the fastball, his breaking ball fell off the table." Liriano agreed with Gardenhire's assessment that he threw too many sliders in the first inning. But he thought the second inning showed that his fastball has improved from last season, when he went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA in 29 appearances (24 starts) for the Twins.
2010 Spring Training - Minnesota Twins
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"Back home I was working [on] locating my fastball," said Liriano, who was moved to the bullpen at the end of last season following what the team called a case of dead arm. "I think today you saw that. I think I was locating my fastball better than last year. My arm feels stronger, and when it feels stronger, you feel more comfortable on the mound."While he may have gone to the slider too much early on in his outing, Liriano is excited by the improvement in the pitch from last year. It may not be quite the nasty slider that he dominated the league with during his rookie season in 2006, but he induced some silly looking swings on the pitch on Saturday. "It was biting more, a little bit harder than last year," Liriano said. "My arm feels stronger so that's why my slider is getting better. Because it feels better, I'm not scared to let it go so I can throw it." One of Liriano's competitors in the race for that fifth spot in the rotation also saw his first mound action on Saturday. Perkins replaced Joe Nathan in the third inning after the closer was pulled from the game with tightness in his right elbow. It wasn't quite the entrance that Perkins had envisioned, facing runners on first and second with one out in the inning and David Ortiz at the plate. Perkins was able to induce two groundouts to get out of the inning unscathed but had a little more trouble in his second inning of work. Perkins gave up two runs on three hits while walking two batters in the fourth inning. He said the more important thing was that in his first game action, he wasn't bothered by any of the shoulder problems that plagued him last year. "I think I'm probably in between where I was at the end of last year and 100 percent, but definitely way, way closer to 100 percent and gaining ground that way," Perkins said of the status of his shoulder. "I know I feel better than I did when I threw live [batting practice] a week ago. So I think the work that I've put in with the shoulder and strengthening that, I think it's definitely working."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.