ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Francisco Liriano on Friday failed to show potential suitors that he can dominate -- but he sure showed them he can get out of trouble.
The lefthander led the Twins to a 5-1 victory over the Rangers on Friday despite walking six batters over 6 2/3 innings. Six walks must be a good sign for him; he also walked six when he no-hit the White Sox on May 3, 2011. He is also the second pitcher this season to walk six in at least 6 2/3 innings and give up one or no runs.
Liriano pulled off this feat with scouts from the Yankees and Braves among the announced crowd of 47,240 at Rangers Ballpark. With the nonwaiver trade deadline of July 31 not far away, teams are out looking for starting pitching. After a horrible start and demotion to the bullpen, Liriano is 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA in eight outings since returning to the rotation -- and those numbers suggest he has helium.
"Baseball's a funny game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Hitters go through streaks and slumps, and pitchers do the same thing, and fielders do the same thing. Rhyme or reason, sometimes they just can't figure it out, and maybe that's the problem. You try so many different things that you get in your own head.
"I hate to say this, but sometimes our brain screws up a lot of things. Rather than just go out and use our God-given ability and winging the baseball up there and letting them try to hit it, we start overthinking situations. I think Frankie's more relaxed now. I think he's not pressing. I think he's learned to take a step back and relax and make a pitch when he has to."
Liriano was around the plate most the night, with his fastball reaching 95 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun while mixing in his other pitches effectively. He got in trouble in the fourth inning when, with one out, he gave up a single to Michael Young and then walked Nelson Cruz. Liriano recovered to strike out Mike Napoli, then got Yorvit Torrealba to ground out and end the inning.
Liriano gave up a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre in the sixth and walked Young. Cruz delivered an RBI single to left, but Napoli hit into a double play and Torrealba struck out to end the inning.
"That [double play] was huge right there," said Liriano, who is 3-7 with a 5.08 ERA this year. "I was behind in the count. I threw a good sinker down and away and got a ground ball. That was huge right there. The guys behind me made some good plays."
With runners on base, Liriano used to turn into Frankie Flustered. Now he's Frankie the Fix-it Man.
"I've been walking too many guys late in the game," Liriano said after handing AL West-leading Texas its fifth loss in a row. "But I've been missing down. Those are some good hitters so you don't want to make any mistakes. So I've been able to keep the ball down and not worry and get the next guy."
The Twins scored three runs in the third, two on RBI singles by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, with Texas first baseman Napoli contributing a dropped pop-up that led to two unearned runs. A sacrifice fly by Mauer in the fourth made it 4-0. After the Rangers scored in the fifth, Morneau hit a solo homer in the seventh.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan will surely get calls about Liriano, who is in the middle of a midseason transformation, before the trade deadline.
"We all know he has the stuff," catcher Drew Butera said. "He has swing-and-miss stuff. He has No. 1 stuff. So for him, it's about staying within himself and staying consistent. Just throwing strike one and trying not to do too much."