Sid Hartman: Liriano's confidence swells after no-hitter

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2011 - 6:26 AM

The Twins lefthander's next task is to put together a good start at home, after two awful ones to begin 2011.

Fans who have tickets to Tuesday's game at Target Field get a chance to see Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano have a chance to perform a real miracle and match what Johnny Vander Meer did for the Cincinnati Reds in 1938, when he was the only major leaguer ever to pitch back-to-back no-hitters.

However, don't get too excited, as Liriano has not been very effective in his two starts at Target Field this year. He is 0-2 with an astronomical 15.75 ERA, having given up 14 runs on 14 hits and five walks in eight innings.

Liriano, 27, had an abysmal 9.13 ERA before the no-hitter against the White Sox, and even the nine shutout innings lowered the figure to a still-unimpressive 6.61.

The last thing anybody expected based on his performances in the first month of the season was for Liriano to pitch a no-hitter. But maybe his outstanding outing in Chicago on Tuesday will turn him around.

"I think I'm going to have more confidence after an outing like that," he said. "I feel more comfortable and I have more confidence, too."

Even though he has struggled this year and the Twins were protecting a 1-0 lead against the White Sox, Liriano didn't think he would be removed from the game even though his pitch count was soaring for a team that always considers the pitch count. He was permitted to stay in and finished with 123 pitches, matching his career high.

"I didn't think they were going to take me out because I hadn't given up a base hit, so I didn't think about that at all," said Liriano, who walked six and struck out only two.

Liriano also had been in the doghouse of Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson because he wouldn't take coaching, but he had a good meeting with Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire on April 29, when the team's current road trip began at Kansas City. Liriano apparently followed Anderson's instructions in Chicago by throwing more fastballs.

"I was hitting my spots with the fastball and using less breaking balls," he said.

Liriano never has been the same pitcher he was as a rookie in 2006, when he made the All-Star team and was a potential Cy Young Award candidate before elbow trouble ruined his season. He had Tommy John surgery that fall and has been trying to regain the same form ever since.

"My arm feels way better so I think it will help me a lot," Liriano said. "I think it's 100 percent back. It feels great, nothing bothers me."

He pitched well at Target Field in 2010, going 7-5 with a 3.11 ERA, more than a run better than his road ERA of 4.25. He struck out 108 while giving up 96 hits and 28 walks in 107 innings at the first-year ballpark.

"You've got to keep the ball down," he said. "I like [Target Field]. It's a big stadium. I think it's a pitchers ballpark, so I like it."

No doubt it would help the Twins get back on a winning track if Liriano can build on his no-hitter. He's one of several key players this year who have had a tough time either staying healthy or being effective when they do play.

Timberwolves draft

In the latest first-round projection on NBADraft.net updated Thursday, the Timberwolves are projected to take two 6-9 forwards who are coming out of college early.

The Wolves, who had the worst record in the NBA this season, are projected to take Arizona's Derrick Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, according to the website. As a sophomore this past season, he was the Pacific-10 Conference Player of the Year, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Wildcats while shooting 56.8 percent from three-point range.

Of course, this is based on the Wolves winning the NBA lottery, which is May 17. The Wolves never have improved their draft position in the lottery.

With the No. 20 pick, NBADraft.net had the Wolves selecting Chris Singleton, who is leaving Florida State after his junior year. He was the scorer (13.1 ppg) and rebounder (6.8 rpg) for a team that went to the Sweet 16. He missed some time at the end of the regular season because of a fractured foot but came back to play in the NCAA tournament.

NBADraft.net also had Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer, the former Orono High School athlete, going in the first pick of the second round, 31st overall, to the Miami Heat.

Jottings

• Minneapolis businessmen and Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat were so interested in getting the Vikings stadium on the Farmers Market site that they spent quite a bit of money putting together a very good film showing what the stadium would look like there. Local public relations executive and radio announcer Dave Mona was one person who saw it, and he said he was really impressed.

• What a year Alexandria's Tom Lehman is having now that he is healthy. The former Gophers golfer won the first Champions Tour major of the year Sunday, beating Peter Senior in a playoff at the Regions Tradition in Birmingham, Ala. In earning $330,000 for his third victory in seven events this year, it means Lehman has earned a little more than $1.1 million in 2011.

• Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia's contract, reported to be a two-year extension with buyouts similar to that of fired football coach Tim Brewster but not confirmed by athletic director Joel Maturi, is in the hands of university attorneys likely trying to put the words together. ... Speaking of attorneys, Richard Hunegs -- one of the attorneys for Jimmy Williams, who won $1.25 million in court from the university after a jury ruled he was wrongfully fired by Tubby Smith as a men's basketball assistant coach -- said the case will come up on the university's appeal as soon as a date is announced.

• Wild prospect Darcy Kuemper joined an illustrious group when he was named both Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year in the Western Hockey League. Other former WHL Players of the Year include NHL stars Cam Ward, Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic. Kuemper, who just turned 21, went 42-12-5 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage for Red Deer. His 13 shutouts tied the league single-season record.

• After averaging 9.7 points per game in the regular season, former Watertown-Mayer athlete Matt Janning averaged 13.6 for Rio Grande in the NBA Development League playoffs, including 16.3 points per game in the three-game finals, won by Iowa on April 29. The 6-4 rookie guard started seven of Rio Grande's eight postseason games after starting only 10 times in 41 regular-season games, 20 with Maine and 21 with Rio Grande. In an interview on the D-League's website, Janning said he wanted to work on improving his strength in the offseason.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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