One of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball is the Twins' Francisco Liriano, who has now pitched 21 consecutive shutout innings, including seven in Sunday's 4-0 victory over Seattle.
The 26-year-old lefthander is 4-0 in his past four starts with a very impressive 0.63 ERA with 33 strikeouts to only eight walks.
It matches a similar hot streak earlier this season for Liriano when he went 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in four starts in April, including a stretch of 23 consecutive shutout innings. Liriano was named the AL pitcher of the month for that performance.
For the season, Liriano is 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA, 150 strikeouts and only 33 walks in 21 starts. And he has given up only two home runs this season, both coming in Boston on May 20.
Former Twins righthander Jack Morris, a member of the Twins radio broadcast team and a keen student of pitching, has watched Liriano since Day 1.
Morris said one reason Liriano has regained a good part of his pre-Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery form is that his confidence has returned and he is throwing strikes.
"He's attacking the strike zone, and he's getting ahead in the counts," Morris said. "And he's the kind of guy that's got that dominating, electrifying stuff when he throws strikes. He's struggled when he gets behind hitters and has to throw the ball over; that is the way most pitchers are. But he's really on a roll right now."
Morris gives Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson a lot of credit for Liriano's recent success.
"More than anything else, I think Andy is trying to get [Liriano's] body to be under control, because he's the kind of guy that really recoils," Morris said. "His body will fall off to the right side and he's not in a good fielding position and it puts a lot of pressure on his elbow. But [Anderson has] been working on him with that."
Still Morris said that Liriano has to prove himself by pitching as well against better teams and late into the season.
"You've got to think so. Right now, he's dialed in on Kansas City, Baltimore and Seattle, teams that aren't very good right now," Morris said. "You'd like to see that kind of result against a Tampa. But in this game you've got to take everything that comes to you, whether they're good or bad. And anything positive for him I think will propel him as we go towards the postseason. You can see it in the way he carries himself. He knows that he can get people out."
It should be noted that Liriano has had some good outings against good teams this month, too, going seven strong innings against Tampa Bay on July 3 before the bullpen gave up seven runs in the eighth and pitching into the eighth inning in beating the White Sox on July 16. His recent poor starts both came against the Tigers, including a game July 9 when he couldn't get out of the second inning, giving up seven runs.
"I like where he's at right now and you know there's a big test ahead of him," Morris said. "He hasn't proven this over the course of an entire summer ever in his career. So we have to wait and see if he can endure that length in August and September."Divisions discussed
Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi looks for Big Ten ADs to decide the makeup of the two six-team divisions for the 2011 football season before they leave their meetings in Chicago on Tuesday.
"I think there will be a recommendation at this meeting; it'll have to be finalized by the presidents," Maturi said.
With Nebraska scheduled to be a part of the Big Ten next year, a new schedule has to be drawn up.
"Obviously, especially in the sport of football, [the schedule is] normally done several years in advance," Maturi said. "We're going to need to finalize that, we don't know if we're playing home or away or who we're playing. A lot has to go into that, so I think we'll have the division and within four to six weeks probably even a schedule."
Of course, Maturi wants the Gophers in the same division with traditional rivals Wisconsin and Iowa.Jottings
• Michael Cuddyer, whom Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called his MVP in part for his willingness to play all over the field as needed, finished the month of July by hitting in 15 consecutive games, hitting .349 with four doubles, one triple, one home run and eight RBI. Cuddyer has been starting at first base again for the injured Justin Morneau -- just like last fall -- after previously seeing playing time in right field and third base and even getting one start at center and one at second this year.
• Speaking of big months, Twins left fielder Delmon Young had a huge July, batting .436 with six home runs, 12 doubles and 30 RBI. His 46 hits in July were the most in baseball. Luckily for the Twins, Young is not eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season.
• Third baseman Danny Valencia had 54 hits in 49 games while playing for Class AAA Rochester before being called up in early June. But in the big leagues, Valencia has 40 hits in 33 major league games this season and since the All-Star break has gone 22-for-48 (.458). ... The minor league contract Jason Repko signed after being released by the Dodgers in spring training called for him to be able to opt out of the deal if he wasn't called up by the Twins by July 1. Apparently the Twins made the right choice because since Repko was recalled in late June, he is batting .324 with three doubles, two home runs, four RBI and seven runs scored. The Twins are 6-2 when Repko starts. ... Since replacing injured Orlando Hudson, Alexi Casilla has hit safely in seven of eight games and is hitting .313 in that span.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, when Kevin Slowey struck out Ichiro Suzuki three times Saturday, the Twins righthander became only the third pitcher to strike out the Seattle star three times in a game. Oakland's Tim Hudson accomplished the feat Sept. 19, 2003, and Boston's Josh Beckett did it April 10, 2007.
• Catcher Wilson Ramos has played in two games for Class AAA Syracuse since being the major piece of the trade with Washington to bring reliever Matt Capps to the Twins. Ramos went hitless his first game with the Chiefs but was 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBI on Sunday.
• A number of 2009 Gophers football players are trying to find NFL roster spots: Simoni Lawrence, a Pennsylvania native, has signed with Philadelphia. Garrett Brown is with Kansas City trying to win a job at nose tackle. Nate Triplett and Marcus Sherels are both in Mankato for Vikings training camp. And Lee Campbell is in camp with Detroit after being released by the Giants.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org