Seattle Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez(notes) and Minnesota Twins lefty Francisco Liriano(notes) are two of the most promising young pitchers to break into the majors over the last several years.
While only Hernandez was living up to that billing early this season, Liriano is closing the gap.
Liriano looks to build on his first win of 2009 by outpitching Hernandez on Saturday night when the Twins and Mariners continue a three-game series at the Metrodome.
Hernandez (4-1, 3.38 ERA) had a 2.67 ERA in his first 12 starts in the majors in 2005. He’s since won 39 games, including four in his first six starts for the Mariners (15-15) this year.
Liriano (1-4, 5.30) showed just as much promise as Fernandez early in his career, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year race in 2006.
Unlike Hernandez, however, Liriano didn’t get off to a strong start in 2009. Still regaining his form after elbow surgery sidelined him the entire 2007 season and part of last year, he posted a 7.06 ERA while losing his first four starts.
He’s looked more like his old self over his last two outings. After holding Tampa Bay to two runs in a Minnesota win last Tuesday, he gave up two runs and four hits while striking out a season-high nine in a 7-2 victory at Detroit on Monday.
“Tonight was a great night,” Liriano told the Twins’ official Web site. “I was able to throw my pitches whenever I wanted. And I got that first win out of the way. I was just thinking about it every time I got out there. Hopefully, I can keep throwing the ball like that.”
The Twins (14-16) think Liriano’s first win of 2009 means good things for their ace.
“For him to go out there and throw scoreless inning after scoreless inning, you could see that confidence growing,” outfielder Michael Cuddyer(notes) said. “He started having confidence in the slider, confidence in the changeup and confidence in the heater. When he gets confidence in all three pitches, he can be pretty devastating.”
Meanwhile, Hernandez is coming off his worst start of the young season. He gave up season highs of six runs and 10 hits in six innings of a 6-5 loss to Texas on Monday. Hernandez, who was fighting the flu, extended his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 22 innings before falling apart.
This will be the second meeting of the year between Liriano and Hernandez, who squared off opening day at the Metrodome. Hernandez allowed one run in eight innings in the 6-1 win, improving to 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA lifetime against the Twins.
Liriano was reached for four runs in seven innings. He’s 2-2 with a 2.32 ERA in five starts against Seattle.
Liriano will try to take advantage of a Mariners club that’s been outscored 36-9 during a season-high five-game losing streak.
“It’s a game we can’t be too proud of,” manager Don Wakamatsu said after an 11-0 loss in the series opener Friday night. “They came out swinging. We’ve got to get production out of the middle of the order to give us a chance.”
The Mariners had better injury news Friday when Wakamatsu said closer Brandon Morrow(notes) will be activated Saturday. The right-hander, who’s converted his first five save opportunities, has been on the disabled list since April 24 because of biceps tendinitis.