FORT MYERS, FLA. - Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano needed this. Maybe Joe Nathan did, too.
After looking shaky in his first two spring training starts, Liriano held the Phillies scoreless for three innings in Sunday's 6-3 loss at Hammond Stadium.
In Nathan's case, he'd been nearly flawless in his first four spring outings, but he got pounded for six runs on five hits Sunday in a third of an inning.
Nathan didn't pitch as poorly as his line suggests. Center fielder Ben Revere lost a pop fly in the sun, giving Michael Martinez a leadoff double. Left fielder Del-mon Young later dropped a ball in foul territory. But Nathan also gave up two doubles, a walk and a three-run homer to Delwyn Young.
"Not a pretty inning by any means," Nathan said. "The good thing is, I came out of it and felt good. ... Results are what they are, but that's what spring training's for. Hopefully we can get as many of these out of the way so we don't see them during the year."
Manager Ron Gardenhire said he's just glad to see Nathan feeling healthy again after missing all of last season. But Gardenhire isn't ready to name his closer. Besides Nathan, the Twins have Matt Capps, who converted 16 of his 18 save opportunities for Minnesota last year.
"I'm not even going there," Gardenhire said. "We're not ready for headline stories yet. We'll let you know at the end [of spring training], just like we did last year."
Capps, who has yet to give up a run this spring in 5 1/3 innings, pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning against the Yankees on Sunday in Tampa, Fla., retiring Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones.
Liriano's outing didn't go quite as smoothly, but there were signs of progress. He had given up six earned runs on eight hits and five walks in his two previous starts, spanning 3 2/3 innings. That included a B game against Tampa Bay on March 4.
This time, he gave up four hits and two walks against a group of Philadelphia B-listers. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and all the other Phillies regulars skipped the trip.
Still, it's a good sign that everything the Phillies hit against Liriano was on the ground, including all four singles and two double-play balls.
"I feel better today, to be honest," Liriano said. "My last start, I was too excited and trying to do too much. I didn't pitch winter ball, so it's something different for me. I'm just feeling kind of weird the first couple games, facing hitters."
Liriano is lined up to pitch the season's second game, after Opening Day starter Carl Pavano. Gardenhire said the Twins' decision not to let Liriano pitch winter ball will prove beneficial if he pitches "the 200-plus innings we expect him to throw this year."
Liriano has three more exhibition starts before his first game in Toronto.
For now, "it's just a work in progress for him," Gardenhire said. "You can see he's not really comfortable out on the mound with everything, and it's spring training, so he's got a few more times to get out there."