Francisco Liriano posted a 2.33 ERA during spring training and roared into the regular season. But once the games began to matter, he began to run deep into counts with hitters.
Looking back, the Twins lefthander said he put pressure on himself.
"Before the start of the season, yeah," Liriano said. "I was pitching so good, but [then] I was thinking too much and trying to do too much.
"Now I'm trying to relax and enjoy myself."
His control is better. His pitches are sharper. His ERA is tumbling down.
It's taken nearly three months, a demotion to the bullpen and a few sleepless nights by manager Ron Gardenhire, but Liriano is resurrecting his season.
He gave the Twins seven solid innings on Monday night in a 4-1 victory over the White Sox at Target Field. Liriano held a good Chicago offense to one run on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He retired the first six batters and 11 of the first 12 he faced. He finished up by limiting the White Sox to one run when they had runners on first and third with one out in the seventh.
"I think it's one of my best games this year," said Liriano, whose seven innings were a season high. "I'm glad I gave my team a chance to win a ballgame, and everything is getting better."
With each outing, Liriano is pitching more and more like the staff ace the Twins expected him to be this season. Either that or they found the imposter who infiltrated the clubhouse on Opening Day and could not throw quality strikes.
It was only a month ago when Liriano was at rock bottom, pitching out of the bullpen -- and not looking good while doing so. The Twins returned him to the rotation on May 30 against Oakland, and he has slowly found his form.
In his past six starts, Liriano is 2-2 with a 2.41 ERA -- after starting 0-5. In 371/3 innings, he has walked 14 and struck out 40. He has whittled his ERA from 8.47 to 5.30 -- more than three runs in just less than a month.
The Twins on Monday took a 3-0 lead through two innings. Joe Mauer had a sacrifice fly in the first inning -- his first of the season. Trevor Plouffe scored in the second when he went to third on Brian Dozier's single, then scored when Alex Rios threw wildly to third. Dozier, later in the inning, scored on Jamey's Carroll's single.
Liriano was sharp until the seventh, when Rios led off with a double, then went to third on a wild pitch. Two batters later Dayan Viciedo walked to put two on with one out. Gardenhire turned to pitching coach Rick Anderson and said: "I think he can get through this. Let's let him work his way through this."
Alexei Ramirez hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1, but Liriano got Gordon Beckham to ground into a force play to end the inning.
"I wanted to leave him out there to see how he did," Gardenhire said, "and he did just fine."
Plouffe's sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 4-1. Ben Revere led the Twins with the third four-hit game of his career.
And the resurrection of Liriano's season continues.
"For him, it's all about staying in control," catcher Drew Butera said. "When he gets out of whack and tries to throw pitches too hard or tries to do too much, that's when he starts throwing more balls. And he stayed under control tonight."