Francisco Liriano, the Twins pitcher who has made a great comeback after having Tommy John elbow surgery in 2006 and missing the entire 2007 season, said that for the first three months following the surgery he thought he would never pitch again.
After that point, Liriano said the rehabilitation got easier. He posted a 10-2 record with a 3.28 ERA at Class AAA Rochester after being sent down early in the 2008 season when he was having a tough time throwing strikes, then returned to go 6-4 with a 3.91 ERA with the Twins after being called back to the major leagues.
Liriano, who will start the season opener tonight against Seattle at the Metrodome, said he has changed his style of pitching.
"Before, I was basically a thrower," he said. "This year, I'm mixing my pitches up -- fastball, changeup and slider. ... I've been throwing probably 94, 95 [miles per hour with his fastball]. I don't know if I've thrown 96 yet. Everything is fine. I feel great."
Now that Liriano has been able to put his worries about the injury behind him, he said he was able to concentrate on specific things in camp this spring to prepare for the season.
"I worked on locating my fastball," he said. "That's the main thing for me in spring training, just getting ready."
He said he won't have any problem pitching to catcher Mike Redmond while Joe Mauer is on the 15-day disabled list because of an inflamed sacroiliac joint.
"Yes, unfortunately, [Mauer is] hurt," Liriano said. "Redmond is a good guy, too. He has been around a long time, so he knows what he's doing back there."
Liriano was moved up to start the first game after Scott Baker went on the 15-day disabled list because of stiffness in his right shoulder. This is Liriano's first Opening Day start, and he can't wait.
"I'm very excited. I can't wait for [tonight]," he said. "It's an honor to get the Opening Day start."
For the Twins to get beyond winning the AL Central Division, they need another Johan Santana-type pitcher. Scouts will tell you a healthy Liriano can give the Twins just what the current Mets lefthander once did.Udeze making progress
While attending pro tryout day at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles last week, Vikings coach Brad Childress visited with defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who missed all of last season after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"I spent a lot of time with him out there, and he looked like a million bucks," Childress said. "The great thing is he is getting his [college] degree. He's working out every morning at 6 with their strength and conditioning guys. He looks good. He's about 265 pounds."
Can Childress foresee the 2004 first-round draft choice playing this season?
"I can. He's got a couple of other hurdles he has to get over and things he has to do with the doctors," Childress said. "[But] there is no reason to believe he won't."
Childress also said linebacker E.J. Henderson, who missed most of last season after dislocating two toes on his left foot against Tennessee in Week 4, and defensive tackle Pat Williams, who had minor offseason surgery on his knee, are healthy and ready to play.
"[Henderson] will be back in the offseason program starting Monday," Childress said. "Truth be known, he probably could have played late, late in the season.
"Pat will be fine. He had a little offseason knee cleanup, but he has rehabbed that just fine."
Some NFL analysts have picked the Bears to win the NFC North now that they have acquired quarterback Jay Cutler from Denver.
"There are a couple different seasons here in the NFL," Childress said. "Preseason, regular season and offseason. The only thing you get points for is winning during the season. That's what we're all trying to do is get better, and I'm sure they felt like they got their football team better."
Were the Vikings trying to make a deal for Cutler, too?
"No," Childress said. "Draft picks are your currency, so you better make sure you get those things right, and we want to hold on to ours."Jottings
Gophers quarterback Adam Weber had surgery on his left shoulder following the 2008 season, but he still took part in the first scrimmage of the spring Saturday and shared snaps with freshman MarQueis Gray. However, Weber only handed the ball off and threw passes, and nobody was allowed to hit him. Gray was impressive with his running and passing, throwing one 60-yard pass for a touchdown. The defense dominated the scrimmage, with the offensive line having a hard time blocking Eric Small and Garrett Brown, who will be two of the best defensive tackles in the Big Ten.
Gerry DiNardo, the former LSU and Indiana coach now with the Big Ten Network, watched the Gophers scrimmage and likes Weber. "I think his challenge is to learn a new offense," DiNardo said. "He is one of the better quarterbacks in the conference."
Jeff Tow-Arnett, the Gophers' starting center early last season before he suffered a serious knee injury in the team's second game at Bowling Green, is not taking part in spring practice. He said team doctors have told him he should be 100 percent by May.
Brian Billick, in town recently to speak to a high school coaches clinic, was asked how tough it was to be out of coaching last year. "I've been on the sideline for 30-plus years," Billick said. "Last year was very tough not to be on that sideline. Once a coach, always a coach. I missed it a lot."
Eddie Guardado, who finished the 2008 season with the Twins, made the Rangers' 25-man roster. Former Twins pitcher Willie Eyre was put on the disabled list by the Rangers.
Toby Gardenhire, son of Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, will start the season with Class AA New Britain. ... Jack Hannahan, the former Gopher who played some third base for Oakland last season, was sent to Class AAA Sacramento on Saturday after hitting .208 in spring training. ... Catcher and former Concordia (Moorhead) standout Chris Coste made the Phillies' 25-man roster. ... Former Twins reliever J.C. Romero was placed on the restricted list by the Phillies because of his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
The five candidates for Mr. Basketball are Mike Bruesewitz of Henry Sibley, Raymond Cowels and Royce White of Hopkins, Sam Dower of Osseo and Jordair Jett of St. Bernard's. The winner will be announced at 7:20 a.m. Tuesday on WCCO radio.