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Updated: May 30th, 2012 2:29pm
Liriano's arm, Willingham's bat lead Twins to sweep of punchless A's

Liriano's arm, Willingham's bat lead Twins to sweep of punchless A's

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano finally delivered a solid start -- his first of the season -- as the Minnesota Twins completed a three-game sweep of the Oakland A's with a 4-0 win on Wednesday.

The skinny

The Twins turned to Liriano for the first time in nearly a month, and the left-hander reciprocated by delivering his best start of the season.

Liriano held the Athletics scoreless on three hits and two walks in six innings while striking out a season-high (and team-high) nine. He threw 88 pitches (51) strikes and induced 13 whiffs out of 33 swings (39%).

Prior to being demoted to the bullpen in early May Liriano had allowed four earned runs or more in all six of his starts. Only once in those six starts did he pitch beyond five innings (5 1/3 in Los Angeles on May 1).

"When you get a lot of guys to swing and miss, you're throwing the ball where you want to," Liriano said. "I've just got to get ready for my next start, try to do the same thing, and try to be more consistent."

Control has been a major issue this season for Liriano, who entered Wednesday having thrown fewer than 40% of his pitches in the strike zone. His location was much better against the A's.

"I was more impressed with how he got behind a couple of guys and came back throwing that fastball over the plate and not trying to trick people too awful much," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just here it comes, take a swing at it. And that's what he needs to do. He can get away with just pitching fastballs to a lot of people. If he's locating it on the outer half of the plate it's really hard for righties to get to that ball, and lefties the same thing. But a couple times he did get in a little bit of a hole he came back and said, 'Here it is, hit it.' And that's what he needs to do."

The Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning off A's right-hander Tyson Ross courtesy of RBI singles by Josh Willingham and Brian Dozier.

Willingham later delivered an encore to his Tuesday night walk-off by launching a two-run homer deep into the second deck in left field that gave the Twins a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning.

The three-game sweep over Oakland marks the first three-game sweep for the Twins since June 17-19, 2011 vs. San Diego.

"It's a good feeling," Willingham said. "A really good feeling. I hope we get to experience it more. I hope we can keep it going. ... We have to be able to put all three facets together."

Turning point

Willingham's home run in the fifth put the game mostly out of reach.

Numbers game

7.20: Liriano's ERA. ""I knew that I wasn't making a lot of mistakes (today), so knowing that I didn't make a lot of mistakes today it's a great feeling," Liriano said. "So I just hope I can do the same thing in my next start."

10: Home runs for Willingham.

0-for-14: Streak snapped for Dozier with his RBI single in the first inning.

Health report

No significant health issues at the moment.

On deck

Thursday: Off day
Friday: @ Indians, 6:05 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (2-4, 5.46) vs. RHP Derek Lowe (6-3, 3.25)
Saturday: @ Indians, 6:15 p.m. RHP P.J. Walters (2-1, 2.96) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (2-2, 4.99)

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