Updated: July 13th, 2012 10:04pm
Francisco Liriano fans career-high 15 in losing effort against A's

Francisco Liriano fans career-high 15 in losing effort against A's

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano struck out a career-high 15 Oakland A's hitters in eight innings on Friday night, walking only one and allowing only four hits. But the effort wasn't enough to earn a victory for the Minnesota Twins, who fell 6-3.

The skinny

Pitching in front of multiple scouts yet again -- the Yankees and Reds among teams representing -- Liriano delivered one of the best performances of his career, inducing 29 swinging strikes out of 55 cuts by A's hitters. Liriano's previous season-high for swings-and-misses was 18.

Unfortunately for the Twins, Liriano's only blemish was a big one -- a grand slam allowed to Jonny Gomes in the fourth inning that gave the A's a lead they would not relinquish.

The 15-strikeout performance ties Liriano with Max Scherzer and Chris Sale for the MLB season-high. Johan Santana set the Twins' franchise record with 17 strikeouts in 2007.

"Everything was working," Liriano said. "Everything was down. I was throwing the ball down tonight. It was sinking a lot too. ...

"That mistake I made in the fourth inning... That was a hanging changeup right there. I think I should have made a better pitch. ... I was sick to my stomach, but what's done is done. Nothing I can do about it. I just tried to go out there and make some good pitches and give my team a chance to win a ballgame."

When Liriano was removed from the starting rotation in early May his ERA had ballooned to 9.45. After being charged with only three earned runs on Friday his ERA dropped to 4.93.

"Frankie, he's feeling really good about himself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Him and Drew (Butera) are working really well. You can't say enough about the catcher and him. He's working really well together, they have a good little combo going there, which is nice to see, a confidence in both of them. ...

"He did everything you're supposed to do as a pitcher, he made one bad pitch after we made some mistakes and unfortunately we get a loss and he does too. But I tip my hat to him. Son of a gun that was fun to watch."

The Twins' offense came courtesy of two home runs by Josh Willingham -- a solo blast in the second inning and a two-run bomb in the fourth. But that was all the damage the Twins were able to inflict off A's righty A.J. Griffin, who struck out five, walked one and allowed eight hits in six innings.

A two-out double by Justin Morneau in the bottom of the eighth inning put runners in scoring position -- and the go-ahead run on second -- with two outs for Trevor Plouffe, but Plouffe lined out to second baseman Jemile Weeks to end the threat.

The A's added insurance in the top of the ninth inning with RBI singles by Gomes and Brandon Inge off right-hander Alex Burnett.

Turning point

With Jemile Weeks on first base and one out in the top of the fourth inning, Yeonis Cespedes hit a lazy fly ball to centerfield. Denard Span circled around and positioned himself to make a throw, but the ball landed only briefly, snow-cone style, in the front tip of his glove before bouncing to the ground as he went to grab it.

Umpires initially ruled it a catch but overturned the call after a short conference and placed Weeks on second base and Cespedes on first. Span was charged with an error.

This helped set the table for Gomes' grand slam just moments later.

The inning started with an infield single by Weeks that deflected off Liriano over to shortstop Brian Dozier.

"A groundball ricochet off of him right to our shortstop and he didn't that play, we've got to make that play, it's an out," Gardenhire said. "Should be an out, they gave it a hit and it's not a hit. Not in this league. He's got to catch that ball, and the fly ball to Span. He tried to get around it and then he got a little quick and missed that play, ends up with four runs in the inning and otherwise for Franky, that was fun to watch.

"I mean goodness gracious he was throwing the living fire out of the ball. All of his pitches were working, unfortunately we just made a couple bad plays out there and that really hurt us tonight."

Numbers game

12: Liriano's previous career-high in strikeouts, accomplished twice in 2006.

2: The number of times Liriano has pitched at least seven full innings this season.

21: Home runs for Willingham.

11: Career multi-homer games for Willingham.

3: Gaffes by Span, who was picked off, doubled off and dropped a fly ball.

27: Draft picks signed by the Twins out of 43 selected, including their top 11 picks. The Twins were unable to reach a deal with ninth-round pick L.J. Mazzilli.

2.70: Liriano's ERA in 60 innings with Drew Butera behind the plate this season. "I think he has some confidence behind him," Butera said. "His stuff that he's been working on with Andy in the 'pen has been paying off, and I think his confidence is high right now. And I think that's the key to his success. He's not afraid. He goes right after them. He knows his stuff is good enough to get outs."

Health report

• RHP Carl Pavano (shoulder) likely won't return to game action until August, general manager Terry Ryan said Friday. Pavano said he has no regrets about trying to pitch through discomfort earlier this season.

• RHP Matt Capps (shoulder) was activated from the 15-day disabled list, but he will be eased back into the closer role slowly.

• No. 2 overall pick Byron Buxton has been sidelined recently due to a strained hamstring. The injury is not considered serious. In 50 GCL plate appearances Buxton is hitting .156/.240/.244 with one home runs and two stolen bases.

On deck

Saturday: vs. A's, 6:10 p.m. RHP Cole De Vries (2-1, 3.00) vs. LHP Tommy Milone (8-6, 3.57)
Sunday: vs. A's, 1:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (1-5, 4.11) vs. RHP Jarrod Parker (5-4, 2.86)

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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