Liriano's mindset is to start for Twins
Left-hander will close if asked but prefers to be in rotation
JUPITER, Fla. -- Whether or not Francisco Liriano's attempted return to prominence comes as the Twins' closer for 2010 is far from being determined.
All he and manager Ron Gardenhire know right now is he's preparing to be a starter, which is exactly what Liriano did against the Marlins in the Twins' 5-4 loss at Roger Dean Stadium on Monday afternoon.
While injured closer Joe Nathan was back in Fort Myers, Fla., saying a Saturday game of catch could determine whether he'll pitch with a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow, Liriano was continuing an injury comeback of his own and a spring competition he hopes will finish with him as the No. 5 starter in Minnesota's rotation.
That outing came with mixed results. While using his fastball early in counts and his slider mainly as an out pitch, the 26-year-old left-hander struck out six batters, walked none and threw 39 of his 50 pitches for strikes. But he also yielded three earned runs on four hits in three innings to bring his Grapefruit League ERA from 0.00 through four innings to 3.86 in three games.
"Well, [the] first inning was kind of OK, but [the] second inning [and] third inning, [I] kind of went too quick to the plate, and it didn't give time for my arm to catch up to my body," Liriano said. "[I was] leaving some pitches up."
That was especially the case in the third inning, when he threw Mike Stanton a high changeup that the outfield phenom hit for a two-run homer. But overall, Gardenhire said Liriano "threw the ball pretty decent."
"He missed some location with his fastball -- he jerked a few inside -- but overall, the ball was coming out of his hand pretty good," Gardenhire said, "and he threw some pretty nice breaking balls."
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Because of his overpowering stuff, Liriano has been viewed as a candidate to be the closer if Nathan can't pitch this season, even though he's never really done it before. For the record, Liriano said, "I'd rather start." But he also said he'll accept the closer's role if that's what the club needs, saying, "I'm ready for anything."
Gardenhire recently declared that pretty much anybody except the four locks in the rotation -- Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey -- would get consideration for the closer's role if one is needed. But as of right now, the focus is on Liriano competing with Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing for the last spot in the rotation.
"We're getting him ready to be a starter, and when we get to the season, we'll decide, and we'll talk to the pitcher first and then we'll go from there," Gardenhire said. "We've already told ourselves that we're going to get these guys ready to be starters, give them every opportunity to strengthen their arms and then we'll decide what we're going to do with the closer."
Liriano, who battled arm fatigue last season while sporting a 5.80 ERA in 29 games, sports a career 4.23 ERA as a starter and a 3.38 ERA as a reliever. But he's never once pitched on back-to-back days throughout his Major League career, and he said he's never really had to do it in the Minors or the Winter Leagues, either.
Liriano has said -- and showed -- that he feels good, and he stated on Monday that his "arm is getting stronger every day." But whether his arm can stand up to pitching on consecutive days this season is in question.
But to this day, Liriano is a starter. So, can he be the dominant starter he was in 2006?
"We'll see," Liriano said with a grin. "I'm trying to get better every day. I do all I can do. I don't know if I'm going to be the same guy or not, but just trying to get better every day."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.