The Minnesota Twins traded away arguably the best pitcher in baseball this past offseason. While Francisco Liriano may never reach that lofty status, there is little doubt he has the ability to be the team’s ace for the foreseeable future.
Liriano is scheduled to make his first major league appearance since the 2006 season on Sunday when the Minnesota Twins try to complete a three-game sweep of the punchless Kansas City Royals.
By trading two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to the New York Mets on Feb. 2, the Twins left a huge hole in their rotation. Liriano was the most logical replacement to fill that void following a brilliant 2006 rookie season, when he was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 appearances, including 16 starts.
Liriano, though, made his most recent appearance on Sept. 13, 2006, and underwent elbow-replacement surgery two months later, casting doubt on the start of a very promising career.
“He had No. 1 dominating stuff before he got hurt. Now we’ll have to see if he’s got No. 1 dominating stuff coming back and whether he can throw it over,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told the team’s official Web site. “But he has that ability, we’ve seen it. Now we’ll see if he can find that same form.”
The 24-year-old left-hander has struggled in two minor league games since spring training, going 0-1 with a 7.56 ERA, but Minnesota feels the time is right for him to make his 2008 debut.
“It’s something big for me,” Liriano said. “It’s my comeback again, so I want to go out there and try to do the best I can.”
Minnesota (6-5) would be thrilled if Liriano comes close to matching its first two starters in this series. After Livan Hernandez went seven innings in a 5-0 victory on Friday, Boof Bonser gave up three hits in six innings in Saturday’s 2-0 win.
Jason Kubel homered for the second time in three games, leading the Twins to their third fourth win in their last five games at Kansas City (6-5).
While Minnesota has scored 19 runs during a three-game win streak, Kansas City has managed only one run in its three-game skid, failing to score in 26 consecutive innings.
“You don’t think Livan Hernandez and Boof Bonser are two guys who should really shut you down,” said Royals outfielder Mark Teahen. “But they’ve made their pitches and when we’ve been given opportunities, we really haven’t capitalized on it. We’ll figure it out. We’re a good offensive club.”
The Royals haven’t scored since Jose Guillen doubled home Teahen in the first inning of Thursday’s 6-1 loss to the Yankees. They have not been shut out in three straight games since the Twins accomplished the feat July 5-7, 2004.
That was also the last time Minnesota recorded three consecutive shutouts.
Kansas City’s Billy Butler extending his hitting streak to a career-best 11 games with a sixth-inning single Saturday. He is batting .372 (16-for-43) this season.
Brian Bannister (2-0, 1.50) looks to continue his success against the Twins. In three starts versus Minnesota, Bannister is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA, including an outstanding eight-inning outing in an 8-1 win at the Metrodome on Sept. 2.
After throwing seven scoreless innings against Detroit in his season debut, the right-hander survived a shaky second inning in a 5-2 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday. Bannister allowed two runs and five hits with four walks and six strikeouts.