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Updated: July 29th, 2012 11:33am
Notebook: Liriano will face Twins Tuesday; What if he stayed healthy?

Notebook: Liriano will face Twins Tuesday; What if he stayed healthy?

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Chicago White Sox announced Sunday afternoon that Francisco Liriano will take the mound against his former Minnesota Twins teammates on Tuesday for the second game of a three-game series at Target Field. He will face right-hander Nick Blackburn.

Liriano was scheduled to start at Target Field on Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, but Saturday night's trade with Chicago obviously changed those plans.

As the White Sox finish their three-game series in Texas, Liriano remains in Minnesota -- his locker still temporarily intact in the Twins clubhouse as of late Sunday morning.

"Yeah it's going to be interesting that's for sure," said Justin Morneau. "I've stood in on
some bullpens on him and faced him in some live batting practices in spring training and all that kind of stuff, so it's going to be interesting to see what our game plan is, but hopefully we get the better end of the deal and we can go out there and win a ball game.

"Obviously it's easy to say that it's just another game, but obviously it's going to mean a lot to him, it's going to mean a lot to us. We're going to go out there and see if we can get ourselves a win."

Right-hander Jeff Manship will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to take Liriano's roster spot. The Twins will play with a 24-man roster on Sunday.

'What if?'

Morneau has been a teammate of Liriano's for seven seasons in the big leagues. He, like many players in the clubhouse, were sad to see a good friend and teammate be traded.

"It's disappointing. (Liriano) is a guy, as far as stuff-wise, can match up with anybody in the league," Morneau said. "We've seen him as good as anybody in baseball. I was up here in '06 and saw the run he was on, and when he got hurt. I think he was trying to find that ever since. We've seen him brilliant at times -- the no-hitter, the big strikeout game he had a couple starts ago. He was a guy that was a very good teammate, very good in the clubhouse. It's tough to lose a guy like that."

In 2006, the Twins were the hottest team in baseball from mid-June through the end of the season. Morneau won the American League MVP Award, Joe Mauer won the batting title, Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter each had huge seasons, and Johan Santana won the Cy Young Award.

It's possible, however, that Liriano's performance was the most memorable in 2006. Throwing a mid- to upper-90's fastball and an unhittable, hard, biting slider, Liriano posted a 2.16 ERA with 144 strikeouts and only 32 walks in 121 innings that season.

But the Twins were never able to see it fully play out, because Liriano blew out his elbow before the playoffs. The Twins were eventually swept by the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series.

"I saw Santana win Cy Youngs, and I saw Santana dominate for full seasons," Morneau said. "But for that stretch when he was healthy, when he was pitching he was the best that I've seen personally. It was something special and something we'll remember.

"For a while all of us will play that "what-if" game. What if we had him and Santana going into the playoffs that year when everybody was hot? It's one of those things that you look back on and say that could have been something special. But unfortunately, injuries happen."

Morneau still optimistic about 2013

The Liriano trade has ties to Morneau's immediate and long-term future with the Twins.

Reports have surfaced that the Los Angeles Dodgers, and perhaps other teams, are interested in acquiring Morneau for a playoff run, to which the first baseman said, "It's out of my control, so what ever happens happens. Obviously I'm here, I'm part of this team. I enjoy playing here, this is where I want to be. Outside of that, I can't really control much."

Whether Morneau stays or goes before Tuesday's trade deadline, one thing is certain -- the Twins are rebuilding, at least to some degree. Maybe not a full rebuilding job, considering the team will still have a very competitive payroll, but players like Morneau -- a free agent after 2013 who is owed $14 million next season -- are not guaranteed to stick around.

"I think that's one of those moves, he's a free agent," Morneau said of the Liriano deal. "If they didn't feel like we were going to be able to re-sign him then you try to get something for him while you can. It's probably more of a surprise that he went with somebody in our own division, but I guess we feel the best return we got was what we got. It's one of those things.

"As far as the rest of the guys go, we've got the best catcher in the game. (Josh) Willingham is a great middle of the order power hitter, two lead-off hitters at the top of the order. I mean we have a lot of pieces here to be a very good baseball team.

"You look at Chicago and they were ready to sell everything off last year and they added some young guys in their bullpen and they turned it around. So it's something that isn't unthinkable to say that we can win next year. We're going to finish this year strong, try to go on a run here and see what happens and we'll worry about that other stuff when it comes along."

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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