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Liriano scuffles in loss to Royals

April 14, 2011 Comments off

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.

Twins walk off on Valencia’s single in 10th

April 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Off the bat, there was no doubt that it was gone. Jason Kubel had crushed a 3-1 pitch deep into the seats in right field for the Twins walk-off victory.

“I thought Kubel’s was going to be in the upper deck,” said Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, who eventually beat the Royals, 4-3, with a walk-off single in the 10th inning on Tuesday. “Honestly, he crushed it.”

But this is Target Field, and the wind was blowing in. So a sure upper-deck home run turned into a long fly out to the warning track. That is, until Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur dropped it. Then it was a race to second and third base to avoid a forceout.

Baseball can be crazy like that sometimes.

“I thought it was going to be a home run off the bat, so I get halfway out there and I see Francoeur’s about to catch it, and he does catch it, so then we run back to the bag,” said right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who was on first with Kubel at the plate.

“Then he drops it, so then you’ve got to go, and it was just a crazy play. Fortunately, I was able to beat the throw by a half a step.”

The question is, what part of the play is craziest?

Is it that Kubel hit the ball hard enough to reach the upper deck and ended up with a single due to the wind and size of the ballpark, or is that Francoeur caught what should have been a home run, only to drop it and complicate things even further?

“I caught it. It was in my glove,” Francoeur said. “I didn’t think I had a chance and I started running it down and kept going. I caught it and it was in my glove and then I hit the wall and it just kind of popped out. I just couldn’t hang on. That was the frustrating part.”

Once everything had been sorted out with that play, the game was still tied, and Valencia was at the plate. Behind 1-2 in the count, the third baseman drove a fastball away to the opposite field, driving in the run for the victory.

Valencia nearly cost the Twins the game an inning earlier after not being aggressive enough on the basepaths. On first after drawing a walk, Valencia advanced only one base on Jim Thome’s pinch-hit single with one out.

One batter later, Denard Span flew out deep to center field, and had Valencia advanced to third, he could have scored on a sacrifice fly for the win.

“He’s got to be on third base,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “There’s no doubt. He’s not the kind of guy I’ve got to start pinch-running for, he’s got to run for himself.

“He has to be aggressive on the bases, and he needed to get to third base on that play, there’s no doubt. And he knows that, I told him.”

Of course, none of that would have mattered had it not been for the impressive performance of the Twins’ bullpen.

In the offseason, one of the Twins’ biggest question marks was whether the bullpen would be deep enough after several relievers left Minnesota through free agency. That answer, through 10 games, has been a resounding ‘yes.’

After an ugly start to the seventh inning had the Twins on the verge of letting the game get out of hand quickly, the bullpen came in and slammed the door shut long enough for the offense to pull out the win.

“Our bullpen did a great job tonight,” Valencia said. “An unbelievable job.”

Everything was going well early on for the Twins. They had a lead, they had scored runs early in the ballgame, and one of their best hitters, Cuddyer, finally broke out of his season-opening slump with a 4-for-4 night.

Then the seventh inning happened. Things went wrong in a hurry for Minnesota in the frame, but some impressive pitching from Jose Mijares and Matt Capps kept things from getting out of control.

“The bottom line is, I’ve got to get the guy at the plate out,” Capps said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

A seemingly harmless grounder to third turned into an infield single after Valencia’s throw went wide of first base. The sacrifice bunt that followed became a two-base error as left-hander Brian Duensing airmailed Justin Morneau at first base.

Then, a hard grounder up the middle, which glanced off the hand and leg of Duensing, tied the game. As he left, the starter was more worried about his poor throw to first than the pain from the hard grounder back to the mound.

“I was really upset with myself because of the airmail that I did to first base,” Duensing said. “But I put the team in a situation that could’ve cost us the ballgame, and for Mijares and Capps to come in and shut the door like they did, it does nothing but fire you up.”

With the game tied, runners on the corners and none out, Duensing was pulled in favor of Mijares, who promptly struck out left fielder Alex Gordon. That was all for Mijares, as Capps entered and got Billy Butler to pop out to short before striking out Francoeur looking.

Capps pitched 1 2/3 innings and did not allow a hit, Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth, and Dusty Hughes finished things off with a clean 10th for the win over his former club. Twins relievers retired the last 12 batters of the game.

“A hard-fought game,” Gardenhire said. “Our bullpen did a super job coming in and getting us out of it.”

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