Liriano, Twins stumble in finale vs. A's

Liriano, Twins stumble in finale vs. A's

OAKLAND -- The goal for Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano coming into his start against the A's on Thursday was simple. Command the strike zone with his fastball, and continue to show the team he was on the right track

The problem was that he didn't do either.

The left-hander pitched just two-thirds of an inning against the A's, giving up six runs on five hits while issuing three walks, in the Twins' 11-2 loss at McAfee Coliseum.

"That was a tough one for Frankie," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He feels bad about it. I don't think he has a lot of confidence right now."

Despite working on it this week in his bullpen session, a lack of command with his fastball really hurt Liriano once again. He threw just 15 of his 35 pitches for strikes and frequently fell behind hitters in his short outing.

That inability to find the strike zone occurred early on in Liriano's start. He threw five straight fastballs to the first hitter he faced, and only one of those was for a called strike.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson went out to talk to Liriano following a five-pitch walk to Frank Thomas that loaded the bases. Anderson told Liriano to settle down and just throw it over the plate, but that didn't provide any solutions.

Instead, the A's seemed to hit everything Liriano threw. Emil Brown drove in two runs with a single to left. Liriano then walked Bobby Crosby and gave up three consecutive hits to the A's Nos. 7-9 hitters.

Liriano was pulled after giving up a single to the final batter in the A's lineup, Rajai Davis. He was then replaced by right-hander Brian Bass.

The trouble wasn't a complete surprise to Gardenhire, who said before the game that the contact-hitting A's would provide a good challenge for Liriano

"We knew going into it that this could possibly end up being a tough day for him," Gardenhire said. "These guys are a different breed of ballclub. They take pitches and have short swings. They don't get big and try to hit home runs. They make contact, and that's what happened out there."

Liriano's outing Thursday was the shortest by a Twins pitcher since May 30, 2002. In that game, Brad Radke lasted just one-third of an inning against the Angels, leaving with an injury.

This short stint by Liriano was not injury related, but the concern is just as great considering the troubles the pitcher has found early in his comeback.

With the rough outing, Liriano's ERA is now 11.32 over his first three starts, leading to the question: Just how long will the Twins allow Liriano to remain in the rotation?

And afterward, Gardenhire hinted it might not be much longer.

"We've got some discussing to do right here," Gardenhire said. "We've seen him and know where we are at with him. That's very important.

"So the comeback continues. No one said it was going to be easy, and it's not an easy thing when you sit out that long. We believe this young man is going to be a very, very good pitcher for us. It's going to take a lot of work, and we'll see where we are at over the next few days and make some decisions on what to do next."

Liriano certainly appeared to be very disappointed after the outing and couldn't find many answers as to why things haven't gone his way. Health-wise he feels perfect, and he has continually delivered strong bullpens. It's just that when he gets in the game, it all disappears.

"I expect better than that from me," the pitcher said. "I don't walk that many people. I'm kind of frustrated right now. I can't hit my spots with my fastball"

The frustration for Liriano is a bit new considering he never suffered through anything like it during his rookie season.

The Twins had given Liriano an early lead. Carlos Gomez led off the first inning with a solo shot to left field for his first home run as a Twin. It was also the first leadoff homer of Gomez's career.

The center fielder rebounded offensively after having a day off, going 2-for-2 with the homer and a bunt single down the first-base line. His homer snapped an 0-for-12 streak, one that included four strikeouts during an 0-for-5 performance on Tuesday.

But the Twins couldn't find a way to recover from Liriano's troubles. A's starter Greg Smith limited the team to just two runs on seven hits over his seven innings.

A comeback effort wasn't helped by the fact that the A's were able to score often against the Twins bullpen. The bullpen entered Thursday's contest having allowed just two earned runs over its last 21 1/3 innings.

But with Liriano's struggles, the 'pen had to fill in for 7 1/3 innings against the A's, and it led to relievers giving up a total of four earned runs.

Gardenhire said Bass, who pitched 3 1/3 innings and gave up three earned runs on seven hits, did the best he could to extend for the club. But having to use four relievers in the game has left the team a little short-handed.

The Twins are heading into a stretch of three off-days within an eight-day span beginning Monday. That means that the team will likely have to make some alterations so as not to "mess up" the rotation, Gardenhire said.

And with the bullpen a bit taxed after Thursday's game, the team might need another arm as soon as this weekend. That could mean that Liriano might be headed down sooner than expected.

But if that's the case, then it will be a result of the team feeling that some time in the Minor Leagues is the best thing for him.

"We've seen him down there and up here, and now comes the time to figure out what the next best step is for Frankie to get him back to where we need him," Gardenhire said. "That's what we need to decide."

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