MINNEAPOLIS — There was a time when Francisco Liriano was nearly unhittable, an intimidating force at the top of the Minnesota rotation that piled up strikeouts while the Twins piled up victories.
Many thought that pitcher was gone forever after Tommy John surgery in 2007. It’s very early in this 2010 season, but signs of the old Liriano are finally starting to resurface.
Liriano struck out six in eight scoreless innings to lead the Twins to a 6-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night.
Liriano (2-1) allowed six hits and walked two and Michael Cuddyer had a homer, a triple and three RBIs for the Twins, who are off to an 11-4 start thanks partly to Liriano regaining his form from 2006 when he was an All-Star.
“We all know the story,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Francisco Liriano was fantastic.”
David Huff (1-2) gave up only three hits in six innings for the Indians. But he walked six and allowed four runs before Aaron Laffey gave up a two-run triple to Cuddyer in the eighth that put the game out of reach.
The Twins have used 11 walks and sterling starting pitching to take the first two games of the series.
Liriano was a nearly unhittable rookie in 2006 when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings. But he missed all of 2007 after the surgery and has been slow to work his way back.
He went 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA last season and there was a talk about him moving from the rotation to closer when Joe Nathan went down in spring training.
All that talk is over now. One day after Kevin Slowey went eight innings in a 5-1 win, Liriano dropped his ERA to 1.29 and received a standing ovation as he walked off the mound after the eighth.
“It’s nice,” Liriano said with a wide smile. “I didn’t hear that last year. Them supporting me, it’s a great feeling.”
Brendan Harris had an RBI-single and Denard Span followed with another single that scored two runs for a 3-0 lead in the second. Cuddyer hit a solo homer to right field in the sixth.
With Liriano humming right along against an overmatched Indians offense, that was plenty for the Twins.
“Watching him from center field, I’m glad I’m not hitting against him,” Span said of Liriano. “It looks nasty.”
The lefty retired 10 of the first 12 hitters he faced, then worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth when he got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“We just need to keep working,” Cabrera said. “We also need to give credit to their pitchers. They’re good and they’ve been doing a good job.”
Liriano wasn’t quite as sharp with his fastball as he was in his previous start, when he struck out eight in seven scoreless innings of a victory over Boston. But then again, he didn’t have to be.
The Indians have been terrible offensively early this season, beginning the day last in the AL in batting average (.214) and slugging percentage (.338) and second-to-last in runs (46) and on-base percentage (.303).
“It’s tough when you have so many guys struggling,” said manager Manny Acta, whose Indians fell to 6-8. “That’s why I say I feel thankful to be where we’re at right now.”
- Acta said closer Kerry Wood (back) will throw a simulated game in Oakland on Friday before the team makes a decision on what to do next.
- Indians top prospect Carlos Santana had to be helped off the field for Triple-A Columbus after fouling a ball of his left knee. He is listed as day to day with a bruised left knee.