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Updated: May 4th, 2011 1:43am
Mackey: Simplified approach key to Liriano's abrupt turnaround

Mackey: Simplified approach key to Liriano's abrupt turnaround

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Following an 11-2 meltdown in Kansas City on Saturday night, the Minnesota Twins sat behind closed doors, gathering their thoughts while being reprimanded by manager Ron Gardenhire.

The team meeting was supposed to act as a line in the sand -- a clean slate of sorts. Instead, it was followed by another embarrassing loss to the Royals on Sunday.

Suffice it to say that team meetings should come with a disclaimer:

May take 48-72 hours before effects kick in.

Sure enough, Francisco Liriano went out and threw a no-hitter against the rival White Sox on Tuesday night.

Go figure.

"Yeah, it's real crazy, because we were playing real bad," Liriano said. "But ... we never give up."

Apparently not.

If there was ever blatant proof that momentum is impossible to pinpoint on a baseball diamond, Tuesday night provided a perfect example.

The Twins -- outscored by 64 runs in 27 games, owners of the worst record in baseball heading into Tuesday, and losers of six in a row -- pulled a Fast Five-style 'U' turn, at least from an emotional and morale standpoint.

And Liriano -- who may or may not have been pitching for his job, especially with Kevin Slowey ready to return this weekend -- spun an immediate 180 as well.

"It's a crazy game, isn't it?" said pitching coach Rick Anderson. "You hope something like that this might get everyone going a little bit. You saw how excited the guys were and how relaxed. Hopefully we can come out (Wednesday) and it can carry over and get us going. You need something to kind of jump start you a little bit."

It would be foolish to blindly take Liriano's no-hitter at face value. He walked six, threw only 66 of his 123 pitches for strikes and fell behind hitters on a regular basis. Certainly he has been more dominant in past outings, and surely he has work to do as this season progresses.

But Liriano stepped up when it mattered -- both for himself and for the team's collective sanity.

"I talked to (Anderson) like two days ago," the lefty said. "He told me to just go out there and pitch the way you know how to pitch, and don't worry about mechanics or anything at all. Just go out there, hit your spot and make some good pitches."

Liriano added, "It's kind of surprising. I'm a strikeout guy ... I came in here this year just trying to get some quick outs, and not trying to strike out as many people, and trying to go deeper into games. It happened tonight, so I'm very excited."

Anderson and Gardenhire sat down with Liriano in Kansas City on Friday to discuss the left-hander's inconsistent release points, but in the days leading up to Tuesday's start, the trio decided to back off on discussions about mechanics until further notice.

"You know what, it's early in the year, but my biggest job with the pitchers isn't mechanics, it's keeping them mentally positive and keep them confident they can do it," Anderson said.

"He's trying to throw a two-seam and a four-seam fastball and his slider and his changeup and whatever. But I said, 'What are you feeling?' and he said, 'I'm getting killed on my two-seam fastball.' So I asked him what he likes to pitch and he said four-seam, changeup and slider. So I said, 'Be who you are. No more two-seams. Let's put that in the back pocket for a while and go with what makes you right.'

"But if that makes him confident and he knows he can throw those three pitches for strikes, that's what we'll do."

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's not lose track of a few important items. Despite the no-hitter, and the flood of positive emotions that goes along with such a win, the Twins still sit eight games under .500 and 9 1/2 games back of Cleveland.

And Liriano still has more walks (24) than strikeouts (20) and one of the highest ERAs in baseball (6.61).

But his simplified approach is a step.

An historic one.

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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