ST. PETERSBURG -- Francisco Liriano appeared flustered and out of answers following his third straight four-inning outing on Saturday afternoon against the Rays. But while things have been going poorly for Liriano of late, don't expect the left-hander to be moved out of the Twins rotation -- at least not for the time being. "I'm definitely not ready to send [Liriano] to the Minor Leagues and I'm not ready to send him to the bullpen right now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said on Sunday morning. "If that ends up being an option, who knows, but I'd really like to see him go back out there and we will see him go back out there the next time. If it looks like it's becoming a real issue for him mentally, then we'll try to see what our best options are to help him."
Liriano's 6.60 ERA this season is tied with the Indians' Fausto Carmona for the worst in the American League. He's posted a 12.00 ERA while allowing 25 hits over his past three outings and he recorded his AL-leading seventh loss on Saturday against the Rays. After his latest start, Liriano said that he can't figure out what his problems have been in the third and fourth innings of his outings. The pitcher has been able to ease through the first two innings of most of his starts before finding trouble, leading to one big inning that has also forced him out of starts early. "I don't try to make better pitches," Liriano said. "I just try to do the same thing I was doing the first couple innings, but it isn't working at all. I need to find a way out of that. I don't know yet what it is." For now, the Twins will try to see if they can help Liriano find that answer while he's still pitching as one of their starters. With left-hander Glen Perkins currently on the disabled list due to an inflamed nerve in his elbow, Liriano is expected to remain in the rotation at least until Perkins is ready to return. Perkins threw a successful bullpen session on Sunday morning and is scheduled to drive down to Fort Myers, Fla., following the game to begin an official rehab assignment with the Class A Fort Myers Miracle. The left-hander will make a start for the Miracle on Thursday, the first of two he's expected to pitch for the club. He'll throw around 70 pitches in that outing, and if everything goes well, he'll likely move up near 100 pitches in the following start. Anthony Swarzak has pitched well in his two starts filling in for Perkins and there have already been questions as to how the club might keep him in the Majors once Perkins returns. "He's thrown really, really well," Gardenhire said of Swarzak. "Does he belong? Well let's just put it this way: He hasn't done anything to prove that he doesn't." So perhaps it might be Liriano's spot that Swarzak could take over should Liriano's woes continue over his next start or two. "When [Perkins] comes back, you see where you're at and what's going to make your ballclub better and help Frankie, too," Gardenhire said. "Right now, we just want to see him get through ballgames without that big inning and see what happens." While the results for Liriano were similar on Saturday, with all four of his runs coming in a very long third inning, Gardenhire reiterated that the club saw some positives that hadn't been there in previous outings. The skipper's hope is that Liriano can start to trust his catcher more on the pitches that are called and that he can try to build upon some things he did do right in this last start. "Yeah, he had a 47-pitch inning, but he got ground balls," Gardenhire said. "That's what I kept telling him. I said, 'Frankie, you had three ground balls that just went in the right places or they could have got you out of the inning. Just look at that and say you were unlucky yesterday a little bit, too. You didn't throw great that inning. You walked some people you shouldn't have. You had two strikes on six or seven hitters with a chance to make one more pitch and get out of it. But in addition to that, the ground balls you did get were just in the right spots. So, you just have to bear with it, go back out and try it again.'"
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.