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Updated: October 5th, 2010 2:02pm
Notebook: No extra restrictions on Francisco Liriano in first playoff start

Notebook: No extra restrictions on Francisco Liriano in first playoff start

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano's final three regular-season starts were abbreviated, but the Minnesota Twins' left-hander won't be under any reduced pitch count in Wednesday's American League Division Series opener against the New York Yankees.

"We are always going to be cautious with our pitchers, but we will let him pitch," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Liriano, who will take the mound for Game 1 against the Yankees' ace lefty, C.C. Sabathia.

"Hopefully, he will go deep in the game. Being aware of our bullpen, we have a pretty good group out there that can help us out if we need them. ... Sure, there will always be some pitch limit. I won't let him throw 150 pitches, I guarantee that, but we will let him pitch."

Named AL comeback player of the year on Wednesday, Liriano finished the regular season 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA -- his best year since 2006, when he was one of baseball's top pitchers before blowing out his elbow.

But Liriano's last three starts lasted a combined 13 1/3 innings, in which he allowed 12 earned runs (8.10 ERA) on 17 hits, including five homers. His pitch counts in those games -- all losses -- were 81, 58 and 91.

The 26-year-old faced the Yankees twice in a 12-day span in May and allowed five earned runs in 13 innings (3.46 ERA), though the Twins lost both games.

Asked whether he can take anything out of those starts, Liriano said, "Just go out there and hit my spot. Use both sides of the plate. And watch some film from the game before and have an idea what I am going to do (Wednesday). Pitching is about location. Just go out there and look at the pitching and see what happens."

Liriano's only previous postseason appearance came in relief in Game 1 of last October's division series against the Yankees. He allowed a home run to Hideki Matsui in a game the Twins lost 7-2.

"He's got great stuff and we've all seen it," Gardenhire said. "He has pitched very, very well for us this year. You never know how anybody is going to handle these situations and stats in the postseason -- that's why you put them out there and you let them go."

Roster decision

Reliever Jon Rauch's injured left knee is "fine," Gardenhire said, but the Twins plan to wait as long as possible to announce whether Rauch or fellow right-hander Scott Baker will be on the playoff roster.

Rauch was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday, and he fielded some grounders during the team's morning workout. Gardenhire indicated the decision has been made -- "I was looking for one of the pitchers to let them know in the clubhouse, and I couldn't find him" -- but won't be announced until shortly before Wednesday's series opener.

The Twins are keeping 14 position players and 11 pitchers, with a four-man rotation of Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn. Baker hasn't thrown out of the bullpen since 2007.

Lot of lefties

The Yankees reportedly decided to drop right-hander A.J. Burnett from their playoff rotation, meaning the Twins will face lefties Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA) and Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28) in Minnesota, then righty Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19) in Saturday's Game 3 in the Bronx.

The Twins' numbers this season are only slightly better against right-handed starters (.275/.345/.430) than lefties (.270/.332/.405), even though their regular lineup includes left-handed hitters Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel and Justin Morneau, who will miss the playoffs because of a concussion.

"The ball has to cross the plate one way or the other," said Delmon Young, who will bat fourth behind Mauer. "You just look to get a pitch you can hit, and you're going to take a swing at it. To get to the World Series, you're going to have to face some lefties -- Sabathia, (Tampa Bay's David) Price or (Texas') Cliff Lee. You're going to see lefties, so you've just got to get out there and go play."

Health watch

Mauer evaded a question about whether his swing is where he wants it after missing time in recent weeks with a knee injury.

"I guess it doesn't matter at this point," Mauer said, chuckling, "but I am feeling good. I will be behind the plate and ... I am looking forward to it."

Gardenhire said the knee is "fine. It is what it is. It's going to be a little sore here and there, but he's going to go and play. ... I can guarantee he will be ready to go."

Good weather

The Twins worked out on a sunny Tuesday morning amid temperatures that reached into the low 70s.

According to weather.com, more sun is expected on Wednesday, with a projected game-time temperature in the low 60s for the first playoff tilt at open-air Target Field.

"It's great. This weather is perfect," third baseman Danny Valencia said. "You couldn't ask for anything better. Clear skies. It's nice out."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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