Liriano studying the seamy side of pitching

The Sports Xchange

--LHP Francisco Liriano said Friday one of the reasons he has struggled in his first three starts this season is an unruly fastball. "Everything is just moving too much on my fastball right now," he said. "It's moving away like crazy."

Pitching coach Rick Anderson thinks he has a simple solution: throw fewer two-seam fastballs and more four-seam fastballs. The four-seamer moves, too, Anderson said, but not as much as that sinking two-seamer. Liriano has a wicked slider and a terrific changeup, but they're not nearly as effective when batters can lay off the fastball.

It was the four-seamer that Liriano relied on this spring, when he went 2-1 with a 2.33 earned-run average in 27 innings. He gave up 25 hits but walked only five. Through his first three starts this season, Liriano has given up 15 earned runs on 22 hits and nine walks in 11 1/3 innings.

Liriano gave up five earned runs on seven hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings in his last start, a loss at New York, after which he and Anderson had a heart-to-heart.

"After awhile I said, 'What did you do in spring?' He said, 'I threw a lot more four-seam fastballs; now I'm throwing too many two-seamers and giving the hitter too much credit,' " Anderson said. "I said, 'How did you do in spring? That was pretty good. Let's get back to it.' "

Liriano (0-2) is scheduled to start Sunday's series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

--RHP Alex Burnett seemed to do nothing right in spring training, though a closer look reveals he was tweaking his delivery. So results weren't the only consideration when analyzing his performance.

In reality, or at least in hindsight, giving up 18 hits, five walks and eight earned runs in 10 1/3 spring training innings was not a harbinger, because in six regular-season games, Burnett, 24, still has a 0.00 earned-run average.

What's the difference?

"Confidence," Burnett said, "confidence in my pitches and attacking hitters."

Through Friday's games, Burnett had given up eight hits but just one walk in 8 1/3 innings. Three of those hits came Thursday at Yankee Stadium, where he twice worked himself into trouble while trying to keep the Twins in a one-run game. Each time he got inning-ending double plays, one of them from Robinson Cano with the bases loaded.

"I made it a little exciting there," he said. "I just made the pitches when I needed to, thankfully, and was able to get out of those two innings and keep it close."

--RHP Nick Blackburn is on pace to throw a full bullpen session Sunday and make his scheduled start Tuesday against the Red Sox at Target Field. He missed his last start because of stiffness in his shoulder but declared himself fit after a light bullpen session Friday.

"It's not like I held back," Blackburn said, "but I wasn't up there for like 15 minutes, either. I got up on the mound and threw all my pitches, tried to work on a few things just to make everything felt fine, and it did. So I think we're right on track."

The Twins will have to take a player off the active roster when Blackburn returns but can wait until Tuesday. Because the Twins have 13 pitchers on the roster, they can dump a pitcher and call up another position player, but manager Ron Gardenhire said there is no rush.

"We don't have to do anything, really, roster-wise," he said. "If (Blackburn) is OK we could do something, I guess, and get another player back, but I don't see any reason. We're not really pressing the issue with that."

--LF Josh Willingham's three-run double Friday extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games and pulled him within one of Kirby Puckett's 15-game hitting streak to start the 1994 season. Willingham already owns the record for longest hit streak for a player starting his Twins career.

--In the Twins' four-game series at Yankee Stadium this week, split 2-2, the bullpen had a combined ERA of 2.64, giving up 13 hits and five earned runs in 17 innings. They added three more scoreless innings in Friday's 5-4 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

--Twins great Tony Oliva is in St. Petersburg to be officially inducted into the Ted Williams Hall of Fame. Oliva, 73, is scheduled to throw out the first pitch of Sunday afternoon's game between the Twins and Rays.

.443 -- C Joe Mauer's career batting average in 19 games at Tropicana Field after going 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBI in Friday's 5-4 Twins victory. That average leads all active major-leaguers.

"It needs to happen a few times; if you don't ever come back you maybe start to believe that you can't. You do it a few times, then you start believing you can. The effort is there, and you just have to have it happen a few times." -- LF Josh Willingham on the Twins' four come-from-behind victories this season.

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