MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Twins signed Livan Hernandez just prior to the start of Spring Training this year, it was not only to give the club an innings-eater but a veteran starting pitcher with experience pitching in big games. The Most Valuable Player of the 1997 World Series for the Marlins at age 21 and a playoff pitcher for various other teams since then including the Diamondbacks last season, Hernandez has certainly seen his share of that time in the spotlight. But with the Twins holding a chance to capture first place in the American League Central on Wednesday night for the first time since May 13, Hernandez put his club in an early hole -- one that it would never recover from as the White Sox cruised to an 8-3 victory at the Metrodome, dropping the Twins to 1 1/2 games behind Chicago in the division race.
Before a crowd of 42,705 -- the largest non-Opening Day attendance since Oct. 1, 2006 -- the Twins never really gave their fans much to cheer about as they fell behind, 5-0, by the time Hernandez exited after four innings. The deficit appeared even larger than that considering the way that White Sox starter Gavin Floyd was pitching at the time. "Getting behind early against a good pitcher like that, you know you are in for a rough night," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "After they jumped us early, we couldn't do much about it." While Hernandez has been able to recover from some difficult early innings in recent starts, he didn't have the same luck on Wednesday. The White Sox struck early in the contest. Carlos Quentin hit a two-out solo home run, his 28th of the season, in the first to put Chicago on the board. Hernandez (10-8) then gave up one more run in the third on a sacrifice fly to right field by Jermaine Dye. But while the right-hander found his way out of jams in the first three innings, the same couldn't be said in the fourth. Once again, it was Quentin who proved to be the biggest pain to Hernandez in the fourth. After loading the bases with one out in the inning, Hernandez got A.J. Pierzynski to fly out to left field for the second out. That's when Quentin, his former teammate in Arizona, came to the plate. Following the loss, Hernandez (10-8) couldn't help but lament the location of his pitch to the All-Star outfielder. Quentin belted a hanging slider left over the middle of the plate for a bases-clearing double to left field. It put Chicago up, 5-0, and gave Quentin four RBIs on the day. "I [get Quentin] out, it's 2-0 and I continue to pitch," Hernandez said. "I don't know how long I continue to pitch but a 2-0 game is different than 5-0. That was the ballgame, that one pitch I make. It changed everything." Gardenhire turned to his bullpen for the start of the fifth, putting in Boof Bonser, who became the subject of trade rumors on Wednesday, the eve of the Trading Deadline. Bonser eased through his first two innings without giving up a run before finding trouble in the seventh. After two quick outs to start the inning, Bonser walked Paul Konerko, who entered the game hitting just .210 since returning from the disabled list on July 8. Bonser gave up a single to Nick Swisher before allowing a three-run homer to Alexei Ramirez. Although that homer would boost Chicago's lead, the game seemed beyond reach at that point. That's because Floyd (11-6) delivered a performance similar to his start against Minnesota on May 6, when he came within two outs of no-hitting the Twins. This time around, Floyd lasted 7 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on four hits. "I've come up against him in the Minors and it's the same story," Jason Kubel said. "He's a tough guy to face. He seems to always keep his team in the game." Floyd retired the first nine batters he faced before Denard Span led off the fourth with a single to left field. Two outs later, Justin Morneau doubled to left field to score Span from third base. But while losing out on first place was a tough blow, perhaps the bigger question after the loss revolved around Hernandez's future in the starting rotation. Amid indications that the Twins could be close to calling up left-hander Francisco Liriano, there is uncertainty as to just which spot the 24-year-old might fill. Of the starters, Hernandez has found the most trouble recently. After winning six of his first nine starts for Minnesota, Hernandez is now 2-4 with a 5.94 ERA in his last six outings. "He's got to locate the ball," Gardenhire said. "He just made too many pitches out and over the plate tonight. ... When he gets the ball in the middle of the plate, he gets himself in trouble. Tonight he did that early and we were never able to recover from that." The veteran pitcher hasn't really concerned himself with talk about his future. On the eve of the Trade Deadline, there wasn't much talk of Hernandez being shopped. Still, there is a feeling that he could be the pitcher moved from the rotation to create a spot for the streaking Liriano. Despite his inability to help the Twins pick up a big victory on a night where first place was on the line, Hernandez was confident that he could -- and would -- make up for it at another time. "I want to win the game. It's something I want to do," Hernandez said. "I'm sorry, I didn't come through and that was the game. But I'm going to be there when the situation comes again, trust me." Now Hernandez will just have to wait and see if the Twins have the same thing in mind.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.