Pitching tonight: Will new month bring a new Liriano?

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 7:10 AM
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Francisco Liriano talked with Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson in the dugout at Target Field.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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ANAHEIM, CALIF. - April has ended, and nobody is more eager to turn the calendar page than Twins starter Francisco Liriano.

In four April starts, he went 0-3 with an 11.02 ERA, giving up at least five earned runs in each outing and never pitching into the sixth inning. He will return Tuesday night against the Angels, his first appearance since his April 22 loss at Tampa Bay.

"I'm going to put everything behind me," Liriano said Monday. "Whatever happened is in the past. It's going to be a new start for me."

The Twins skipped Liriano's last start, giving him time to clear his head and work on his mechanics.

Liriano was constantly shifting on the pitching rubber, moving to the left side against lefthanded hitters and to the right side against righthanders. He struggled to maintain a consistent arm slot, while racking up 13 walks in 16 1/3 innings pitched, so Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson got Liriano him to commit to pitching closer to the middle of the rubber against everybody.

"I'm having the same year he's having, it's very frustrating," said Angels righthander Ervin Santana, a good friend of Liriano's who is 0-5 with a 5.58 ERA. "He just has to trust his stuff and throw more strikes and the results are going to change."

Liriano, who is making $5.5 million this season, can become a free agent at season's end. That coupled with the fact the Twins are desperate for a frontline starting pitcher seemed to have the lefthander's head spinning in the season's opening month.

"There's always going to be pressure in major league baseball; there's no way we're going to be able to get away from that," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He has to be able to handle those things. Taking a step back sometimes is a really good thing. We'll see how he does."

Mauer gets a rest

After taking a foul tip off his left knee Sunday, Joe Mauer wasn't in the Twins starting lineup for the first time in 22 games. Mauer also was batting .091 (2-for-22) lifetime against Angels starter C.J. Wilson, though Gardenhire said he didn't want to comment on that because "I refuse to talk bad about one of my players."

Mauer was available to come off the bench and was in the on-deck circle ready to pinch hit for Jamey Carroll when Denard Span made the final out in Monday's 4-3 loss. But Gardenhire wasn't sure if he will be ready to catch Liriano on Tuesday.

"We'll see how he's feeling," Gardenhire said. "Both [Mauer and Ryan Doumit] have caught Liriano, so it would be nice if Joe can, but if he's still a little sore, I'll play him at first base."

Before Monday, Mauer had played every inning of every game this season.

"I think playing first base and DH-ing -- that's really helped keep him fresh," Gardenhire said.

Still fearing Pujols

After going 1-for-4 Monday night, Albert Pujols is homerless in his first 92 at-bats since signing his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels.

"We're not going to talk about it; that's how we don't wake him up," Gardenhire said before Monday's game. "He may be off to a slow start, but he can snap out of it, hopefully not tonight. Just give us three days to get out of here and we'll be fine."

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