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Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano

Christine Cotter, Associated Press

Bullpen is latest attempt to fix Liriano

  • Article by: La VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • May 10, 2012 - 11:30 PM

Francisco Liriano is willing to do whatever is necessary to help the Twins win. But neither he, nor the team, left spring training thinking that it would have to be as a reliever.

That's where they are at after Liriano, with an 0-5 record and a 9.45 ERA, was sent to the bullpen in the latest attempt to get the lefthander's season turned around.

"I've been there before, so I have to go out there and try to do my job," he said. "I'm happy to be here and try to do anything to help the team win some ballgames. From the bullpen, starting, whatever I have to do."

The Twins hope Liriano comes in some games, faces a few hitters and begins to build momentum that will take him back to the rotation. They could have sent him to Class AAA Rochester to start -- a decision Liriano has said he would accept if presented to him -- but manager Ron Gardenhire wants him to work on getting major league hitters out.

"Well, we talked about him going to Rochester and starting, but that's not the same hitters you're going to see down there as you are up here," Gardenhire said. "You can go down there and throw the ball over and you're going to get people chasing the ball all over the place. You can dominate down there. We need him to face major league hitting and bear down and get some major league hitters out."

Liriano needs to get his confidence to throw strikes back. He has 7.09 strikeouts, 6.41 walks and 2.03 home runs per nine innings, all career worsts. In 2010, when he went 14-10, those numbers were 9.44, 2.72 and 0.42. He's 9-15 since 2010, an amazing reversal.

"It's been tough, to be honest," he said. "Having the spring that I had and coming into the season then walking so many guys and getting behind in the count, it's kinda tough for me. It has been up and down but I gotta find a way to get back to pitching better."

Strike thrower

Righthander P.J. Walters was called up to replace Liriano in the rotation. He hasn't had too much trouble finding the strike zone. In 33 1/3 innings at Rochester, he struck out 25 and walked six.

"I was getting ahead in the count and just making pitches early in the count, rather than walking guys," Walters said.

Walters, 27, has 51 innings of major league experience, mostly with St. Louis. He's 2-0 in the majors with a 7.24 ERA in 20 appearances, including four starts.

Twins General Manager Terry Ryan spent last week with Class AAA Rochester and was impressed, Gardenhire said. "Terry said this guy will attack," Gardenhire said. "He's a bulldog out on the mound. He's not afraid. He won't back down. There you go. We'll see what he does."

Help from Bruno

Darin Mastroianni, who was called up with Walters, began the year at Class AA New Britain, where he batted .143 in nine games. Because of injuries, he was promoted to Rochester, where he hit .346 in 20 games.

Mastroianni said Rochester hitting coach Tom Brunansky tried to get him to adjust his swing during spring training, but he resisted. But Mastroianni embraced the change once he arrived at Rochester, and his offense took off.

"It was a big help," Mastroianni said. "The quality of at-bats were better and I was more confident at the plate."

Etc.

• Infielder Jamey Carroll was not in the starting lineup Thursday after starting each of the previous 30 games.

• Righthander Kyle Waldrop (elbow) will begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment Saturday with Class A Fort Myers.

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