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Updated: January 4th, 2012 2:35pm
Liriano to pitch winter ball: 'We definitely need him to step up'

Liriano to pitch winter ball: 'We definitely need him to step up'

by Phil Mackey
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First he was, then he wasn't, but Francisco Liriano will pitch a limited amount of innings in the Domincan Winter League after all.

The left-hander was scheduled to pitch two innings for los Leones del Escogido on Wednesday night.

Twins executives estimate Liriano will throw 20-25 innings over the next few weeks, which would be a lighter load than then 50+ frames he threw prior to the 2010 season.

"It will be a bonus if he throws well and gets his confidence back, assuming he's healthy," manager Ron Gardenhire said in an email. "We definitely need him to step up and lead this staff. He has the best stuff."

In December, it was decided Liriano likely wouldn't pitch in winter ball in large part because catering a plan for 20-30 innings is sometimes difficult for winter league managers who are trying to win games. But that notion changed somewhere along the line, and it could pay off nicely for Liriano and the Twins if recent history is any indication.

Twins front office members didn't consider winter ball a necessary priority for Liriano this offseason, but the left-hander did post a 3.62 ERA with 201 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings in 2010 after a successful offseason stint with Escogido.

Because of those 191 2/3 innings, Liriano did not pitch winter ball last offseason. Instead, he wound up throwing too many bullpens prior to spring training and suffered shoulder soreness. He was never able to fully get on track in 2011, posting a 5.09 ERA in only 134 1/3 frames.

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