"That's why people always say he can be a closer because a guy like him can pitch himself out of trouble," Gardenhire said. "Not a lot of pitchers have the ability to do that -- get in trouble and strike people out. That's what a lot of closers can do and that's why his name came up a lot through the media and baseball people about a closer. He has that kind of stuff."
Last weekend, Gardenhire said that the club will go with a closer-by-committee for the start of the season. But Gardenhire admitted Tuesday that the coaching staff and front office had thought long and hard about the possibility of using Liriano in the role.In the end, it wasn't something that Liriano wanted to do, and the club felt that the best thing was to keep him in a starting role. "He can also go deep into a game and get you wins that way," Gardenhire said. "You have to want to do it in the first place to be a closer. And when you finally get a guy back with his confidence, that closer role doesn't always leave you confident after games and you have to be able to blow things off. We've thought about it deep and long and hard. [Anderson] is right with me, leaving him in that role." Liriano's confidence is clearly high following a strong spring in which he posted a 2-0 record and 2.70 ERA in six appearances (five starts). He allowed just five walks over 20 innings while striking out a total of 30 batters. The pitcher said he was relieved to stay in a starting role, even exhibiting a bit of nervous laughter when asked if he was glad not to have to worry about the closer idea any more. "I've always been a starter," Liriano said. "That's what I want to be. I just want to stay like that." Now Liriano will try to continue to build off the success he's had this spring in a starting role. He hopes that perhaps this will be the start of him returning to the form he had before undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2006. When asked when the last time he felt this good in spring, Liriano said it was at the start of that '06 season. "Last year and the year before, I don't think I was feeling that great," Liriano said. "I think '06 was the last time I was feeling this good." Increased confidence is something that Minnesota has seen from Liriano, but Gardenhire seemed just as pleased on Tuesday to see that his starter was able to get deep into a game. Unlike previous years, Liriano said he's working to get ground balls and not trying to strike every batter out, and it's shown in the way he's pitched. "It looked like he was really winging it up there pretty good and it didn't look like max effort either," Gardenhire said. "It looked like he was locating some balls and not max effort on every pitch."
And so for now, consider the Liriano as a closer discussion put to rest."I know all the people say this guy can be your closer, but he can also be a top-of-the-line starter, too," Gardenhire said. "That's hard to find, too. His confidence is at a high right now, too, which is something we didn't have last year. I really the way he's throwing the ball right now."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.