MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Francisco Liriano’s return to the Minnesota rotation was a rousing success, with six shutout innings by the vexing left-hander Wednesday to lead the Twins to a 4-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics, their eighth straight loss.
Liriano (1-5) retired the last 11 batters he faced and struck out nine, the most this season by any Twins pitcher. He allowed only two walks with a double and two singles against the worst-hitting team in the majors that brought a brutal .212 batting average into the game.
Josh Willingham had an RBI single and a two-run homer, roughly 15 hours after his three-run shot in the ninth gave the Twins a dramatic win the night before. This was their first sweep of both a home series and a three-game set this season.
Tyson Ross (2-6) lasted only five innings for the A’s, who have lost 12 of their last 15 games and are batting .172 during the skid. Ten times in that stretch, they’ve scored two runs or fewer.
Ross has lost six of his last seven starts with a 7.34 ERA over that span, and he has the highest opponent batting average in baseball for a minimum of 40 innings at .337.
The right-hander was in trouble right away with a leadoff double by Denard Span. Joe Mauer walked, and Willingham followed with a sharp single. Brian Dozier drove in another run with a single of his own.
After Mauer walked for the third time, in the fifth inning, Willingham hit a no-doubter to the back of the second deck above left field for his 10th home run this year.
Liriano’s first six starts were so bad he was put in the bullpen to fix his mind and his mechanics, and his last relief appearance Friday was rough, too — five hits, four runs and two walks in 2 2-3 innings against the Detroit Tigers.
The Twins had little choice but to put him back as a starter. Triple-A call-ups Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters have helped stabilize the situation, but the rotation has by far the highest collective ERA in the majors.
For at least one afternoon, Liriano offered some hope — or, perhaps more relevantly, summer trade value. Pitching coach Rick Anderson paid him a visit on the mound after he threw three straight balls to Jonny Gomes in the third inning, but Liriano got back to business and struck the designated hitter out.
NOTES: A’s manager Bob Melvin said OF Yoenis Cespedes is still on track to join the team Friday in Kansas City to face the Royals. LF Collin Cowgill, however, would be a “difficult send-down,” Melvin said. The manager likes his energy. Cowgill is 8 for 14 over his last four games. … Willingham’s shot on Tuesday was the first time since Kirby Puckett in 1995 that the Twins hit a walk-off homer to erase a deficit of two or more runs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
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