MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano was named the American League Pitcher of the Month for April.

Liriano was a perfect 3-0 last month while posting a miniscule 0.93 ERA. He was the only starting pitcher in the AL to compile an ERA under 1.00. He also struck out 27 batters. The highlight of the month had to be the 23 scoreless innings Liriano pitched over three shutout performances. The scoreless streak was second in team history to only Johan Santana, who pitched 33 scoreless innings in 2004.

The April award was Liriano's first Pitcher of the Month honor, despite his dominating 2006 season, in which he was selected to the All-Star Game.

Heel affecting Mauer's ability to run

MINNEAPOLIS -- Catcher Joe Mauer missed his sixth consecutive game Thursday as the Twins opened a four-game series with the Orioles at Target Field.

The sore heel Mauer is suffering from hasn't taken away his ability to hit, but it has affected his ability to run the bases.

Mauer suffered a soft deep tissue bruise on his left heel after trying to beat out a grounder during Friday's 9-3 victory over the Indians. One piece of good news coming out of Thursday's pregame workout was that Mauer was able to take batting practice and said his heel is improving, just not enough to play.

"I want to play and I want to feel well, but you have to be smart about it," Mauer said. "It's a step in the right direction."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Mauer's heel continues to improve, but the team has not set a timetable for when he will return to the lineup.

"He feels good swinging, but he's not ready to run yet. He's feeling better every day," Gardenhire said. "We are going to let Joe tell me when he is ready to play. I just want to make sure we get through this thing without re-injuring it."

Gardenhire said Mauer was doubtful for Friday's game with Baltimore and that the injury will be monitored on a day-to-day basis.

Twins rookie Wilson Ramos started in place of Mauer for the fifth consecutive game. Ramos entered Thursday hitting .438, after going 0-for-7 over his previous two games.

During his first two games with the Twins, Ramos showed signs of brilliance in collecting seven hits. That feat was last accomplished in 1942, by Nanny Fernandez of the Boston Braves.

Twins' Hardy rests; update for Neshek

MINNEAPOLIS -- All-Star Joe Mauer is not the only starting position player the Twins are being cautious with. Starting shortstop J.J. Hardy was also out of the starting lineup for Thursday's game with the Orioles.

Hardy suffered a strained left wrist after sliding head first into third base during the Twins' walk-off victory over the Tigers on Tuesday.

Hardy tripled in that game and came home to score the winning run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, but was sidelined for the series finale with Detroit on Wednesday.

The shortstop's sore wrist is not thought to be a serious injury, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said at least one more day of rest was needed.

"J.J. is still sore and not ready to go out and play himself," Gardenhire said. "We are going to give him as much time as he needs for that wrist, too. It feels better than it did [Wednesday], but it's still too sore."

Reliever Pat Neshek reported on Twitter that the injury that sent him to the 15-day disabled list was not a sore flexor tendon on the middle finger of his pitching hand after all. Neshek tweeted that the pain was actually in the palm of his pitching hand, not the middle finger.

"Went to hand specialist, found pain was coming from my palm and not my finger like first diagnosed," Neshek said on his Twitter account. The side-winding right-hander said the hand specialist discovered inflammation and fluid in his palm pulley tendon, but that there were no tears to the tendon. In about a week, Neshek may have a cortisone shot to see if it relieves the pain he is experiencing.

Gardenhire wasn't aware of Neshek's exact diagnoses prior to Thursday's game with the Orioles.

"I don't read Tweets. All I know is he is on the DL with an injured finger. Our doctors and trainers are doing all they can to get him well. We are doing everything we can to get this young man well so he can pitch again," Gardenhire said.

Twins' first-inning scoring streak snapped

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had scored at least two first-inning runs in six consecutive games before being held scoreless by Brad Bergesen in Thursday's series opener against the Orioles.

Minnesota was just the second team in the past 86 years to accomplish such a remarkable statistic. Only the 1971 New York Yankees scored at least two runs in the first inning of six consecutive games. The Yankees did it for seven.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said there was no secret to Minnesota's success of scoring runs in the first inning this season.

"We know we have two of the best at the top of our lineup [Denard Span and Orlando Hudson] as far as working counts and getting on base. When they can do that, we've got some guys in the middle that can drive in runs," Gardenhire said.

One more reason the Twins have been able to jump on opposing pitchers early in the game is the pride Twins hitters take in preparing for each opponent, so they are ready when the first pitch crosses home plate.

"We've always said, 'Be ready for the first inning,' that's offensively and defensively. It just proves these guys are doing their homework on the pitcher," Gardenhire said.