Liriano injured as Twins fall to Tigers

Liriano injured as Twins fall to Tigers

DETROIT -- Losing game one of their series with the Tigers was a blow for the Twins.

But it's not even close to the type of blow that the Twins could receive in the coming days if the news on starter Francisco Liriano is as bad as it appears to be.

Liriano pitched just four innings in the club's 9-3 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park on Monday night before being pulled due to pain near his left elbow that flared up again.

The Twins 22-year-old rookie phenom was skipped over for his last start, due to the inflammation that he had in his left forearm. An MRI revealed no structural damage to the arm and the thought was that 10 days of rest would solve the problem.

But this time, the pain returned in what Liriano deemed a different spot and it seems to be worse than before. It's something that has even caused Liriano to be a bit scared of what may be causing the pain.

"I am, because it really bothered me a lot and I don't know what it is," Liriano said of being more concerned than he was before. "I couldn't throw my fastball, changeup, slider -- it bothered me on every pitch I throw.

"It really bothers me because it's getting worse."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Liriano after he complained of the pain when he returned after pitching the bottom of the fourth inning. There were no visible signs of trouble for Liriano, as his velocity didn't change. But it was a difficult outing overall for Liriano, as he couldn't seem to hold the Tigers down, allowing four runs on 10 hits in just the four innings of work.

The Twins have taken plenty of precautions so far this season with their young ace, and this time was no different as Gardenhire said they pulled the pitcher as soon as they learned of the discomfort again. The club will also have Liriano see the Twins orthopedic physician, Dr. Dan Buss, when the club returns home from the road trip, for another possible MRI to determine the cause of the pain.

"We will be very cautious with this young man, and we have been," Gardenhire said.

Liriano (12-3) said that he felt fine during his time off and reported no pain during his bullpen session this past week. But starting in the second inning, after throwing hard for the first time since his last start, Liriano said that the pain once again flared up, and that's when the troubles for him started as well.

"It was feeling about the same, but I want to keep pitching," Liriano said of his outing. "I don't think I can anymore. I'll just have to wait and see how it feels."

The short outing by Liriano was just the start to the Twins' troubles in the game, as the club once again had to dig into a tired bullpen. After their No. 5 starter, Mike Smith, went just three innings on Sunday, the Twins relief corps was called upon once again to try and hold down another offense.

Two scoreless innings by Pat Neshek allowed the offense to start a rally. Justin Morneau delivered an RBI double in the fourth to score the first Twins run. Joe Mauer then blasted his 10th home run of the season off Tigers rookie starter Zach Miner, a two-run shot in the sixth, to pull the Twins within one, 4-3.

But coming off a series against the Royals where the Twins put together some very impressive offensive stretches, such as 20 straight innings of putting a runner on base prior to the first inning on Monday, the Twins offense couldn't mount as much this time. Instead, the club saw its area of strength, the bullpen, struggle.

And unlike Sunday, when the bullpen kept the Royals quiet after Smith's rough start, the task proved to be a bit too much against a much tougher Tigers squad.

Jesse Crain replaced Neshek to start the seventh and gave up four earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning, as he walked four batters, including the first two Tigers he faced. Willie Eyre would then give up the final run to the Tigers in the eighth on a solo home run by Craig Monroe that officially sealed the victory for Detroit.

"I think we are putting a little bit of pressure on our bullpen right now," Gardenhire said.

But while bullpen woes and another loss to a division foe were hard to swallow for the club, all focus after the loss was on Liriano, and the possibility that the club may have to deal with the loss of one of their aces.

Fellow starter Carlos Silva talked with a clearly concerned Liriano before the 22-year-old met with the media. Silva tried to give the young southpaw a bit of advice that, no matter how down he may be, his health has to be his No. 1 priority.

"The only thing I tried to say to him is that you have to try and take care of your arm," Silva said. "You want to help this team so much, but there is no way you're going to help the team like that with his arm hurting. I just hope he gets better."

The rest of the club is hoping the same, as they know how much Liriano has delivered for the club. If the Twins were to lose Liriano, they know it would be a hindrance to their playoff chances.

"It's tough, because injuries are the things that keep teams out of the playoffs every year," Nick Punto said. "The key to this game is to keep your starters and your front line guys healthy the whole year. "

The addition of Liriano to the starting staff in mid-May certainly was one of the factors that has keyed the club's turnaround. That's why the clubhouse seemed to be nearly as quiet as it's been all season following this loss.

"It's going to be bad because one of the reasons why we are so close to the Wild Card is thanks to him," Silva said, about the possibility of Liriano being out of the rotation for some time. "He's one of the biggest keys to this team. There is no way you're going to replace that guy. What he's been doing is too much to try to replace."

With two games left in Detroit that the club knows are critical to keep itself in the AL Central race with the Tigers, as it now trails by 10 1/2 games, the focus can't be entirely on what the club might lose. The team has seen its fair share of injuries so far this season, including stints on the disabled list by Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart and Lew Ford. Somehow the club has weathered the blows to remain in the postseason hunt, and the focus right now is to try and make it through what may be another difficult test.

"If we lose him out of the rotation, sure it's a tough blow," Gardenhire said. "I mean he's been one of our better pitchers. But we've gone through a lot here, and it's not going to be the end of our baseball team no matter which way it goes."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.