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Updated: March 13th, 2012 3:42pm
Notebook: Liriano 'was rushing like I always do' in 4-run third inning

Notebook: Liriano 'was rushing like I always do' in 4-run third inning

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tuesday's performance was a classic example of why Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano can be such a polarizing pitcher.

Coming off a near-flawless outing against the Rays last Thursday, Liriano retired the first six Blue Jays he faced at Hammond Stadium on Tuesday -- three via strikeout.

But things went south in the third inning. Liriano gave up a sharp single to Adeiny Hechavarria to start the frame, then plunked Mike McCoy with a fastball on the very next pitch. With third baseman Danny Valencia playing in for a possible bunt, Jonathan Diaz punched a groundball single into left field, loading the bases with nobody out.

Liriano buckled down briefly, striking out Rajai Davis on three pitches and immediately getting ahead of Travis Snider 0-2. But Snider drove a hanging slider over Josh Willingham's head in right field for a two-run double.

"If he gets the ball anywhere down part of the zone, you've got no chance to hit that ball," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But he just kind of hung it up there."

The next batter, Travis d'Arnaud, blasted the first pitch he saw over Willingham's head as well for another two-run double.

Liriano came back to strike out Eric Thames to end the inning, but he walked off dejected.

"I think I was rushing like I always do, trying to throw too hard," Liriano said.

After his outing, he went down to the bullpen and threw one more innings-worth of pitches to get his full allotment of work in for the day. When the brief 'pen session was finished, he spent almost 10 minutes chatting with bullpen coaches Rick Stelmaszek and Phil Roof, a former major league catcher.

"They just told me to stay back, calm down and relax," Liriano said. "Try to hit your spots and try not to overthrow. I can't get mad at myself like that. They just kind of calmed me down."

It's important to note Liriano owns an 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in eight innings this spring. Walks were one of his biggest downfalls last year, but he has limited them early in spring. Of 15 balls put in play against Liriano this spring, six (40%) have been groundballs -- a number that should probably be in the 50% range this season for the left-hander to be fully effective.

Liriano's outing last Thursday against the Rays was a perfect, albeit brief, example of how the left-hander can be efficient with his pitch count while also playing to his strength, which is tallying strikeouts.

In three innings, Liriano fanned five and induced three groundballs (out of four balls in play) while throwing only 34 pitches.

"They were swinging that day too, first pitch and second pitch," Liriano said. "And I wasn't rushing like I was doing today. I have to learn how to calm down and not try to overthrow."

Twins coaches have heard that countless times.

"Now, whether he said he was rushing or whatever, it's more about pitch-by-pitch than it is anything else," Gardenhire said. "You're not trying to throw pitch four in a sequence before you throw pitch two. You don't get ahead of yourself. ... He just didn't put them where he needed to."

Twins could look at Michael Wuertz

The Twins currently have 32 pitchers in camp, but it's possible they could look at another one in the near future.

A source told 1500 ESPN correspondent Darren Wolfson that 33-year-old free agent right-hander Michael Wuertz plans to workout for teams early next week, and the Twins are expected to be in attendance.

Wuertz has pitched a total of just 73 1/3 innings over the past two seasons due to a number of injury issues -- right thumb inflammation and a left thigh strain in 2011, and shoulder inflammation in 2010.

When he has pitched over the past two years, Wuertz's control has been largely erratic (5.8 walks per nine), and his ERA inflated (5.40).

Wuertz's average fastball has dipped from 91 to 89 mph since 2009, but if healthy he could provide some stability to the middle innings for a bullpen that lacks established pitchers.

Today's result

Blue Jays 8, Twins 2

• Twins' spring record: 6-6

Alex Burnett's spring ERA rose to 16.88 after the right-hander gave up four earned runs on five hits (three doubles) in just 2/3 of an inning. He also balked. "He didn't locate the ball," Gardenhire said. "That's all we're talking about with him. The stuff's there, but you've got to locate the ball."

Trevor Plouffe and Steve Pearce each drove in runs with RBI singles.

Justin Morneau went 0-for-3 with a deep fly ball to the warning track in centerfield that Rajai Davis tracked down in front of the wall. He will travel to Clearwater on Wednesday for the Twins' game against the Phillies.

Joe Mauer went 2-for-3 with two singles.

• Right-handers Kyle Waldrop and Jared Burton each pitched scoreless innings, keeping their spring ERAs spotless. And left-hander Matt Maloney pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings to keep his spring ERA blemish-free.

Numbers game

51: Pitches thrown by Liriano on Tuesday (33 strikes). His final line: 3 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 4 K, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 3 groundballs, 4 flies, 1 liner, and first-pitch strikes to seven out of 14 batters.

8:1: Maloney's strikeout-to-walk ratio in 5 1/3 scoreless innings this spring.

3: Gardenhire said he would feel comfortable carrying three left-handed relievers in the bullpen if it came down to that. "We're just trying to see how they fit, if they fit. ... We're going to try to find the best pitchers -- what we think works.

Health report

• OF Denard Span (stiff neck) will travel to Clearwater on Wednesday.

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (strained left pinky) will start at shortstop on Wednesday.

• Steve Pearce left Tuesday's game early with a strained right calf. He will not make the trip to Clearwater on Wednesday.

Overheard

"A loogy would be something I used to hock. That would be a loogy. You could call it a loogy or a looger. ... Is that a baseball term? ... Let's stick to layman's terms. Not Danny Lehman's terms. But if you're going to start throwing all those abbreviated, statastistic, statistuber stuff. I can throw some Yogi's at you that will knock you out of your socks."
-- Gardenhire, interrupting a reporter who used the term LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy) in a question

On deck

Wednesday: @ Phillies, 12:05 p.m. RHP Jason Marquis vs. RHP Roy Halladay
Thursday: vs. Pirates, 12:05 p.m. RHP Scott Baker vs. LHP Jo-Jo Reyes
Friday: vs. Orioles, 12:05 p.m. TBD vs. TBD
Friday: @ Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. TBD vs. TBD

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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