MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ready or not, Francisco Liriano is jumping back into the Minnesota Twins’ beleaguered starting rotation.
Desperate for some stability in his starting five, manager Ron Gardenhire announced on Saturday that Liriano would return to the rotation for a start against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday. He simply doesn’t have any other options.
Carl Pavano became the latest Twins starter to make an early exit, lasting just 4 1/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Pavano (2-4) gave up six runs on 10 hits with two strikeouts, and the Twins bullpen was taxed heavily again.
“I don’t think it’s been about run production for us,” Gardenhire said after they lost their fourth straight game. “I think it’s about pitching and getting behind in games and it limiting what you can do. We have to do better with our pitching. We all know that.”
Ideally, that’s where Liriano comes in. The left-hander has the most electric stuff on the staff, but has been unable to harness it for the better part of two years. He was moved to the bullpen on May 9 after starting the season 0-4 with a 9.45 ERA.
Liriano made five relief appearances, allowing four earned runs in 7 1/3 innings.
“I’m looking forward to starting. I’ve always been a starter and that’s what I want to do,” said Liriano, who will become a free agent after this season. “I’m very happy and just looking forward to trying to do my job, get better and everything.”
Justin Morneau and Denard Span homered for the Twins, but they squandered a chance to get back in the game after a 42-minute rain delay in the sixth inning. The game resumed with runners on the corners and one out, and Tigers starter Max Scherzer out of the game.
Josh Willingham struck out for the third time in the game and Morneau popped out to third base to end the inning.
Willingham had four of the team’s 16 strikeouts in the game. The bottom four in the order — Brian Dozier, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera and Jamey Carroll — went 1 for 14 with 10 strikeouts.
The Tigers jumped on Pavano in the first, getting an RBI-double from Miguel Cabrera and an RBI-single from Prince Fielder to take a quick 2-0 lead. The veteran right-hander, who has been pitching through some soreness in his shoulder, seemed to steady himself in the next three innings, allowing only one hit.
But the powerful Tigers put together six straight hits during their four-run fifth, with Andy Dirks delivering a two-run double and Cabrera an RBI-single to make it 6-2.
In his last four starts, Pavano is 0-2 with a 7.08 ERA.
“Regardless (of) what I’m dealing with physically, I know I can pitch better than I am and I need to do that,” Pavano. “This is a game where they needed me to step up and shut them down and keep the bullpen out of it as much as I could and I wasn’t able to do that.”
The injuries and ineffectiveness have forced Gardenhire to use nine starting pitchers this season, and the group had an ERA of 6.49 when the day began, by far the worst in the majors. Anthony Swarzak has bounced back and forth between long relief and a starting, and was tagged for six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings Friday night, leaving Gardenhire with little choice other than to give Liriano another shot.
“We can’t just keep bouncing around from guy to guy to guy to guy,” Gardenhire said. “We just need Frankie. We said we were going to give him a few shots out of the bullpen, let him calm down a little bit. Now we’ll put him back out there and see if we got that pitcher going.”
Liriano said he’s ready for the challenge.
“Mentally and physically, I’m fine,” Liriano said. “I’ve always stayed positive. I didn’t lose my confidence at all. Just looking for ways to do my job and get better.”
If Liriano can get going, it could help the Twins in two ways. First, they need him to harness his talent, which can be overpowering at times, to give them a reliable starter every fifth day. If he can do that, his trade value also would increase as the season wears on and contenders look to add pitching to get them over the hump.
“He’s healthy. We know that,” Gardenhire said. “It’s all we can hope for is him to go out there. We’re running through the gamut here of pitching. We need Liriano in the rotation. We need that arm in the rotation.”
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