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Liriano plays it cool on eve of 2008 debut

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • April 13, 2008 - 12:03 AM

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano is no stranger to the anticipation surrounding him today, as he pitches in his first major league game in exactly 19 months.

He arrived in the big leagues to much acclaim in September 2005. And after opening the 2006 season in the Twins bullpen, he ceremoniously joined the starting rotation on May 19, 2006, at Milwaukee.

So when he rejoined the Twins on Saturday and was asked about today's start vs. the Royals, he said he wasn't the least bit nervous.

"Not at all," Liriano said. "Not really, not now. We'll see [today]."

Liriano's last official game was Sept. 13, 2006, when he walked off the Metrodome mound against Oakland because of severe pain in his left elbow. He had Tommy John reconstructive surgery on Nov. 6, 2006, so he has had 17 full months to rehabilitate into form.

"He could be huge for us," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If he goes out and does his thing and tries not to overthrow the ball -- a lefthander in this league with good stuff can do a lot of damage. So, it's exciting."

Liriano posted a 7.56 ERA in two minor league starts and needed 88 pitches to get through four innings Tuesday for Class AAA Rochester.

Even though Rochester manager Stan Cliburn thought Liriano's command was off, he noted that Liriano was fearless in throwing his slider and changeup.

"I did OK," Liriano said, noting that he needs to throw more fastballs. "[Today], throw strikes, hit my spots and we'll see what can happen."

Contract matter

Liriano has two years and 32 days of major league service time, and assuming he stays in the big leagues the rest of the season, he will be eligible for salary arbitration at season's end, which will drive his salary well past $1 million.

He earned one year of major league service last year while on the disabled list, recovering from surgery. But he was not earning service time the past two weeks with Rochester.

If the Twins had waited longer to promote him, he might not have reached the threshold -- three years -- to qualify for arbitration.

Punto gets a chance

Nick Punto got his second start of the season, spelling third baseman Mike Lamb. Punto entered Saturday with only three at-bats all season but went 2-for-3 with a walk in the Twins' 2-0 victory over Kansas City.

"[Punto's] going to end up coming into a tie ballgame, and you have to give them at-bats so they're prepared to have a little success and maybe help you win a game," Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire said catcher Mike Redmond might get his second start of the year today, as well, which would give Joe Mauer a break with a day game after a night game.

Sticking with Tolbert

With Matt Tolbert entering Saturday batting .556, Gardenhire kept him in the lineup at shortstop, giving Adam Everett another chance to rest his sore shoulder in the cold weather. Tolbert went 0-for-4 Saturday.

Tolbert left the ballpark Friday with an unusual present, as his teammates had rounded up the actual base he stole for his first career stolen base. That's one clunky keepsake.

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