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Liriano scuffles in loss to Royals

April 14, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — In the first three innings of games this season, Francisco Liriano has been impressive. It’s the next three that are the issue.

In his office Wednesday morning, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire discussed with reporters Liriano’s middle-inning struggles, attributing them to a tendency by Liriano to get overhyped after something goes wrong. Against the Royals, Gardenhire did not believe that was the issue in the Twins’ 10-5 loss.

“He was making pitches, the ball was just rolling through,” Gardenhire said. “They found some holes. Off the end of the bat, the ball rolled up the middle, another one in the hole, a jam shot that shot through the hole there. He blooped another one to right.

“He was making pitches. I didn’t think he was trying to overthrow the ball and he was using all of his pitches. They just found some holes in the one inning.”

That inning was the fourth, in which the Royals plated six runs on eight hits, all off Liriano.

After holding the Royals hitless through three innings on Wednesday, Liriano had his outing derailed by a leadoff single in the fourth. Each of the next five batters got a hit as well, and the Royals were on their way to a road win.

Royals center fielder Melky Cabrera got things started with a single, and Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit each followed with singles of their own. Mike Aviles added a two-run double and later scored the sixth run of the inning.

“It was a tough inning for me,” Liriano said. “I think I made some good pitches in that inning, and they were still getting hits. You’ve just got to tip your hat to them.”

Against Cabrera, Liriano fell behind 2-0 before giving up a single through the hole to left field. Gordon hit the first pitch he saw back up the middle, just past Matt Tolbert at short. Liriano was ahead of Butler, 1-2, but the first baseman hit a fastball to left for the base hit.

He was behind Francoeur, 1-0, and gave up an RBI single back through the middle, on a pitch that was nearly in the dirt.

“The one Francoeur hit up the middle, I went to block it,” catcher Drew Butera said. “Obviously he’s a good bad-ball hitter, but at the same time, he still made the pitches, executed what he wanted to do, and it was just one of those days.”

Behind 0-1, Betemit hit a changeup on a soft liner to left, scoring another run.

Aviles was behind 0-2, but still managed to hit the ball just past Danny Valencia at third base and into shallow left field for the hustle double. No matter what Liriano did, any pitch he tried, the Royals had an answer for it and managed to find a hole for a base hit.

“We just kept putting the good part of the bat on the ball, putting the ball in play and everything was falling in,” Aviles said. “We really didn’t hit the ball as hard as we could in that inning, if you really think about it, but it doesn’t really matter as long as the balls find holes and we keep putting pressure on the defense.”

Liriano finished with seven runs allowed on eight hits in five innings of work, including a walk and four strikeouts. Royals starter Kyle Davies also lasted just five innings, but it was enough for the win, as he allowed five runs on 10 hits with one walk and four strikeouts.

The Twins answered with a four-run, six-hit inning of their own in the fifth, highlighted by a two-run single by Delmon Young, but couldn’t catch up.

“It was a day of bunches, man,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We bunched together a bunch of hits and they came back and bunched together a bunch of hits. Again, our bullpen was spectacular and did the job.”

Four Twins collected two or more hits in the game, including Tolbert, Jason Kubel, Delmon Young and Denard Span, who went 4-for-5 with four singles and two runs scored.

Unfortunately for the Twins and the 36,286 fans on hand — the smallest crowd so far in Target Field history — most of those hits came off Davies. Once Yost went to his bullpen, the Twins’ managed just two more hits in four innings.

Between Kanekoa Texeira, Tim Collins and Jeremy Jeffress, the Royals’ relievers retired 12-of-14 batters faced. Jeffress allowed one hit while facing seven batters over two innings, earning his first Major League save.

“A solid bullpen, I think you saw some really good arms coming out of the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the adjustments they’re starting to make. Young kids with great arms out of the bullpen, bringing in some veterans that have won. It’s about getting a winning atmosphere.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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