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Liriano to return to rotation Sunday

Twins to DL Slowey, bring back Liriano

KANSAS CITY -- The "Franchise" is coming back to the Majors.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano, nicknamed "Franchise" in 2006 by Twins teammates, will be called up to start Sunday's contest against the Royals, manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday.

To make room for Liriano on the 25-man roster, right-hander Kevin Slowey will be placed on the 15-day disabled list -- retroactive to April 4 -- with a strained right biceps muscle.

Slowey suffered the injury during his April 3 start against the Angels, and felt soreness in his arm as recently as Monday during a session of catch. Gardenhire said Friday that Slowey was feeling better, but there was no way he would be ready to make a start within the next few days.

"First, we've got to get him throwing a bullpen," Gardenhire said. "Standing around, he feels OK, but we won't really know until he starts letting the ball go."

With Slowey's status uncertain, the Twins had planned to push their entire rotation back a day after Thursday's rainout in Chicago, which left an opening for a starting pitcher for Tuesday's contest in Detroit. But rather than adjust Liriano's schedule to have him pitch Tuesday, the decision was made to start him on his regular day Sunday.

Keeping the pitcher on schedule is something the team feels will be very beneficial to Liriano, who is coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in November 2006.

"We don't want to make him go 8-10 days between starts when you're coming back from that," Gardenhire said of Liriano. "He's doing good with his starts, his arm and everything, on his normal day."

In addition, the team will push right-handers Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker each back a day for their starts. Blackburn will start Monday in Detroit, with Baker getting the nod Tuesday.

Since the Twins left Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., Liriano has made two Minor League starts. One with Class A Fort Myers and the most recent with Triple-A Rochester. In those two starts, Liriano gave up a combined seven earned runs on 11 hits over 9 1/3 innings. He struck out 11 total batters in his two outings, but Rochester manager Stan Cliburn told reporters after Liriano's latest start that the pitcher might benefit from one more outing with the Red Wings.

However, the main purpose of the extra starts was to raise Liriano's pitch count to around 100 pitches, and Gardenhire said the lefty should be right at the mark for his start Sunday.

Liriano is scheduled to join the team in Kansas City on Saturday. While weather is a concern for the first two games of the series vs. the Royals, Gardenhire said he expects the club to get in both games. But even if there is an additional rainout, Liriano will start Sunday.

If Saturday's game is postponed, starter Boof Bonser will then back up Liriano on Sunday. Liriano would still throw between 60-70 pitches, Gardenhire said, and Bonser would pitch an inning or two in relief.

Despite all the uncertainty around the schedule, Gardenhire said he's excited about what Liriano could bring to the rotation. But he also seems realistic regarding his expectations.

"We know what he's going to do throwing the ball, he's going to hit and miss," Gardenhire said. "He's going to have his innings where he might throw nine pitches and get three outs and he might throw 99 pitches and get no outs. He did that even when he was going great. He'll have moments where he'll walk a guy or two and not even be close [to the plate], then all of a sudden come back. That part hasn't changed."

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

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