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Updated: March 28th, 2012 4:45pm
Francisco Liriano will likely throw fewer sliders this season

Francisco Liriano will likely throw fewer sliders this season

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano labored a bit through four-plus innings in the Minnesota Twins' 11-7 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, allowing two earned runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out four.

Liriano threw 82 pitches (53 strikes) and his fastball consistently touched 92-94 -- midseason form.

He will likely make one more start before the regular season, and overall everyone -- including Liriano, manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson -- is pleased with how the left-hander is throwing this spring.

"To be honest, yeah," said Liriano, who has struck out 26 while walking only four in 22 innings this spring. "Everything is working, getting better location-wise."

Anderson and Gardenhire have been more and more adamant that Liriano not shy away from contact -- that he trust his fastball and changeup early in counts, as opposed to throwing slider after slider.

Only a handful of pitchers threw more sliders, percentage-wise, than Liriano in 2011. Throwing fewer sliders could also put less stress on his arm.

"More than anything else we just don't want to see slider, slider, slider, slider, slider," Gardenhire said. "We like to see when he uses all of his pitches. Pitch with his fastball, throw that slider every once in a while and use that changeup. Mix them all in. Use them all.

"The one thing you've got to know with him is he's got a great fastball, and he doesn't have to fall in love with that slider. So if he stays with a good mix like he's doing right now he'll be fine."

Pitching in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, Liriano worked mostly on fastball location, and so far this spring he has thrown first-pitch strikes to 56% of the batters he has faced (in four games tracked) -- which is up from the 49% mark he posted last year.

Getting ahead of hitters is important for all pitchers, but probably more-so for Liriano, who has the ability to make hitters look foolish with his slider -- only if they don't know it's coming.

"That's one of the key things," Liriano said. "I just try to throw more fastballs than I used to and try to keep the slider back for an out-pitch. Throw more changeups and two-seamers, try to control that two-seamer. I think it's a good idea, and it's working so far."

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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