NEW YORK -- After being ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the third inning of Tuesday's game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had plenty of time to talk with left-hander Francisco Liriano.
After all, Liriano didn't stay in the game much longer than his manager, as he lasted 2 1/3 innings in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Liriano struggled from the get-go, allowing 11 of the 18 batters he faced to reach base, as he gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks.
"I told him, 'It's a kid's game, you have to play like it,'" Gardenhire said. "I told him, 'You can't put too much pressure on yourself, and the weight of the world is not on your shoulders. This is just your third start of the year.' I just want him to relax and have a smile on his face and have some fun playing this game, because he has great stuff. Right now, he's pressing. He wants do well for the team and the organization."
It's been a rough start to the season for Liriano, who has allowed 15 earned runs in just 11 1/3 innings for an unsightly 11.25 ERA. He's also walked more than he's struck out, with nine free passes compared to just eight punchouts.
The Twins simply can't afford for Liriano to continue his struggles, and they were hoping to lean on him after an impressive Spring Training. But Liriano looks more like the pitcher who posted a 5.09 ERA last year than the one who had a 3.62 ERA in 2010.
"It's a battle for him right now," Gardenhire said. "He's not able to execute well enough. He just has to keep working on it. As I told him, you have to stay with it. Baseball is a long season."
After an RBI double from Brett Gardner in the second, Liriano was able to escape a bases-loaded jam by getting Robinson Cano to ground out to end the inning.
But Liriano wasn't so lucky in the third, as Andruw Jones, Curtis Granderson and Eduardo Nunez hit three straight singles to bring home a run before Gardner walked to load the bases. Chris Stewart quickly brought home two runs with a single that knocked Liriano from the game.
"He's a guy we've faced a ton before and he's not a guy you want to chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, and we did that first inning," Gardner said. "We tried to make him bring the ball over the plate, and we were able to."
Left-hander Matt Maloney replaced Liriano and surrendered a sacrifice fly to Derek Jeter, but he was able to get out of the inning. Maloney ended up tossing 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits, including a solo homer to Jones in the fourth.
The Twins fared well against Yankees ace CC Sabathia in the early going, as Josh Willingham crushed a solo shot in the second to give Minnesota an early lead. It was Willingham's fifth homer of the year.
The Twins added two more in a wild third frame in which center fielder Denard Span and Gardenhire were ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home-plate umpire Greg Gibson.
Span took issue with a called first strike and was tossed in the middle of his at-bat. He was replaced by Clete Thomas, who promptly drove in Alexi Casilla with a double to left field and came around to score on a single from Jamey Carroll.
"I just didn't make a pitch to Thomas, and he put a good swing on it," Sabathia said. "I don't think the ejection had anything to do with it. It didn't really last long, and I'd got a chance to throw in between."
Sabathia settled down after that, retiring the next 13 batters he faced before walking Trevor Plouffe with two outs in the seventh inning.
"I thought he started to find his location down and away better, and I thought all of his stuff got better," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He just started to make better pitches. In the third inning, he gave up the two runs, and gave up a few hits in a row and after that, it was not a whole lot."