Francisco Liriano surrendered seven runs Wednesday instead of four, as he did in each of his first two starts, but the Twins were firm in their belief that he made progress.
Whether Liriano will buy into that thinking is another question, but maybe he had to go backward in a 10-5 loss to the Royals at Target Field in order to move forward.
Liriano is 0-3 with a 9.42 ERA after going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his first three starts last season. It's fair to wonder where he's at mentally, since emotions got the best of him in 2009, when he started 0-4 and finished 5-13.
"I'm very confident," Liriano said. "Just a little bit of bad luck today. Just one bad inning, and that inning changed the whole game."
Liriano held the Royals hitless and scoreless in four of his five full innings. But the other inning was a doozy -- a six-run, eight-hit frustration feeder.
"I thought he was throwing the ball good, and all of a sudden the one inning, some balls just found holes -- balls off end of bats, bloops, the whole package," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Liriano faced 10 batters in the fourth inning and threw just 27 pitches. For comparison, he needed 34 pitches to get through an eight-batter fourth inning last week at Yankee Stadium. The results were worse this time, but at least he wasn't nibbling.
This allowed him to go back for the sixth inning Wednesday, after the Twins scored four runs off Kyle Davies (1-1), trimming Kansas City's lead to 6-5.
Handed a second chance, Liriano walked Wilson Betemit to start the sixth, and Gardenhire gave him the hook.
"We've told him forever, he's a strikeout pitcher; we understand that," Gardenhire said. "But if he really wants to become a pitcher ... pitch to contact earlier, and that will get you deeper into the games."
Liriano isn't wired to pitch to contact.
"To be honest, yeah, it's a little bit hard for me," he said. "But I don't want to be throwing four or five innings, so whatever I have to do to go deeper in the games, I have to do."
Kansas City's fourth inning wasn't all bad luck for Liriano. He fell behind in the count 2-0 before Melky Cabrera opened the frame with a sharp single past third baseman Danny Valencia.
Two batters later, Liriano was ahead of Billy Butler 1-2 before catching too much of the plate with a fastball that Butler grounded to left field for a single.
But the pitch that the next batter, Jeff Francoeur, hit for his single up the middle wasn't bad. It was a 93-mile-per-hour fastball about ankle-high.
"I went to block it," catcher Drew Butera said. "I mean, obviously he's a good bad-ball hitter, but at the same time, [Liriano] still executed what he wanted to. It was just one of those days."
On Wednesday morning, Gardenhire said he wanted to see Liriano take control of a game instead of letting a game control him. As tough as it was to see from the results, this came closer to happening against the Royals. Liriano didn't fall into a predictable pattern. He threw fastballs, sliders and changeups, and the Royals kept rounding the bases -- with six ground-ball hits, one soft liner and a blooper.
Through it all, Liriano stayed composed. His next start comes Monday at Baltimore. The Twins have their fingers crossed that he's ready to take a big step forward.
Joe Christensen • firstname.lastname@example.org