Bill Smith kept getting good reports in the offseason about how well Francisco Liriano was pitching in winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

However, the Twins general manager wanted to wait until spring training to see how the 26-year-old lefthander would do after going 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA last year. Liriano missed the entire 2007 season after having Tommy John surgery on his left elbow.

After beating the Indians 8-3 on Sunday, Liriano -- acquired from San Francisco in 2003 as a throw-in in the Joe Nathan deal -- is 4-0 with a sensational 1.50 ERA.

"[Liriano] got to spring training and he threw the ball well," Smith said. "First of all he came in in great shape, and that was exciting for us. So we said, 'Well, now he's going to have to carry it over into the regular season,' and for the first month of April, he has done that. So let's hope that Francisco Liriano continues to carry the load for us."

Liriano's victory Sunday gave the Twins another series victory. They have won every series this season except one at Detroit on this road trip.

Smith said Liriano is a different pitcher than he was before the surgery. Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 2006 before he started having elbow trouble.

"A few years ago he was really probably just a thrower," Smith said. "But he's got a great arm and you know, again, we've got a long season ahead, but we're excited about what he's done certainly in the first month."

While Liriano has done a great job, Nick Blackburn has struggled. The righthander, who was 11-11 in both of the past two seasons with ERAs of 4.05 in 2008 and 4.03 last season, is 1-1 with a 6.85 ERA in four starts this season. He has given up 33 hits, 18 earned runs and six home runs in 23 2/3 innings.

Smith is convinced the 28-year-old righthander, who is in Oklahoma dealing with a personal family matter, will come around.

"Nick Blackburn has been pretty steady over the last few years, and we'll go with his track record over the last few years and get him back on track," Smith said.

Happy with Thome

Smith is pleased with the performance of veteran designated hitter Jim Thome, who after homering Sunday against the Indians has five home runs in only 49 at-bats, 13 RBI and is batting .265.

"Well, we went into the offseason and one of the things [manager Ron Gardenhire] talked about was having a veteran guy off the bench," Smith said. "I don't think we could have found a better person to fill that role. Now, as guys get banged up, Jim Thome's going to get plenty of at-bats, but his presence in the clubhouse, his presence in the dugout, he's just a threat that I think as we go forward, he's going to start to cause pitching changes, or prevent pitching changes, because people are going to be afraid to have Jim Thome come up late in the game when the game's on the line."

Smith is impressed with the Tigers, who won two of three from the Twins in Detroit and just swept the Angels. They are at Target Field to face the Twins for a three-game series starting Monday night.

"They're a good club, they're a veteran club," Smith said. "They're playing well right now, so they're coming in here and we're going to have our hands full, but we'll be ready for them.

"It's going to be a good race. Don't rule out the White Sox, and certainly the Indians and Royals are going to have a lot of say."

Sad day for Warmath

A lot of Murray Warmath fans lost a great friend when Carol Dillow, daughter of the former Gophers football coach, died of cancer Thursday in Kansas City. She was the athlete of the family. She is the second of Warmath's children to die. Billy Warmath died in his 30s because of a blood disorder.

Carol was a character. There was this time at a Gophers game, when her father was still coaching, when a rowdy fan with a big cigar in his mouth sitting behind Carol and her mother kept bashing Murray. Carol turned around and said, "Take the cigar out of your mouth." Then she slapped the guy right across the face and told him: "I want you to know that is my father you are criticizing." The critic, very much embarrassed, left the game with his party.

Warmath, 97, still attends most every Gophers football game. Carol would join Warmath at games whenever she visited. Many of us will really miss those big hugs from Carol, whom I watched grow up and who was a very close personal friend. She was a great gal with a fantastic personality. I had great love for this great woman.


How do you figure this out? Catcher Wilson Ramos was hitting .179 for Class AAA Rochester. He was called up by the Twins after Joe Mauer bruised his heel and, in his first major league game Sunday, Ramos went 4-for-5. He hit a long home run in spring training the day Gardenhire told him he was being sent down. ... Pitcher Jeff Manship was 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA for Rochester. He was called up by the Twins for a spot start Saturday, held Cleveland to two runs and five hits in six innings, and despite the outstanding performance, will be sent back to Rochester.

Twins President David St. Peter predicts the Twins, with 2.85 million tickets sold to date, will pass the 3 million mark within 30 days.

Look for the Gophers to raise the price of men's basketball tickets either $1 or $2, but there will not be any increase for men's hockey tickets.

Former Wild winger Benoit Pouliot, traded to Montreal in November for Guillaume Latendresse, had one assist in seven games in the Canadiens' first-round upset of Eastern Conference top seed Washington. The Canadiens roster also includes defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, whose stick accidentally knocked out eight teeth of former Wild teammate Eric Belanger in Game 5 of the series. ... Former Gophers defenseman Alex Goligoski had one goal and two assists in the Penguins' series victory against Ottawa. ... Former Gophers winger Blake Wheeler had two assists in the Bruins' series victory against Buffalo.

Former Gopher Jordan Schroeder had three goals and three assists in six playoff games for the Manitoba Moose. ... Anders Lee, a Notre Dame recruit, leads the USHL in playoff scoring with seven goals and eight assists as his Green Bay Gamblers face the Fargo Force in the USHL's Clark Cup Finals in a best-of-five series, which started Friday night. Two Gophers recruits, Nate Condon and Nate Schmidt each have five points for the Fargo Force, who defeated Gophers recruit Erik Haula's Omaha Lancers in the semifinals. Haula is tied for third in USHL playoffs scoring with two goals and nine assists. ... Gophers recruit Seth Ambroz finished with four and two assists for the Lancers.

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