Twins 3, Mariners 1

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Hitters beware.

The future of starting pitching was on display in Friday night’s showdown between Francisco Liriano and Felix Hernandez, and it was filled with 97 mph fastballs, unhittable sliders and knee-buckling changeups.

Liriano out-dueled fellow young gun Hernandez, and Joe Mauer homered to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

“That’s two future Cy Young winners right there,” Twins designated hitter Rondell White said. “They both have electrifying stuff.”

The 22-year-old Liriano (3-0) pitched five scoreless innings, striking out six and allowing four hits against the Mariners’ beleaguered offense.

Hernandez (3-6) has struggled much of this season after a sensational debut as a 19-year-old in 2005, but looked sharp for most of Friday night.

After Mauer turned Hernandez’s 95 mph fastball into a 427-foot homer to left-center that made it 3-0 in the third, the young Venezuelan buckled down in impressive fashion.

He retired the next 14 batters, striking out half. He gave up three runs and five hits with eight strikeouts in seven innings.

“I would just as soon as not see Liriano again,” Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. “I’m sure the Twins probably say the same thing about Hernandez. Unless they’re both pitching for me. Then I wouldn’t mind watching them.”

The Mariners’ hitters didn’t give their young star much help as they flailed away helplessly against the rookie Liriano.

The Dominican lefty breezed through the first four innings. After allowing a leadoff single to Ichiro Suzuki, Liriano retired 12 of the next 13 hitters with a dazzling combination of 97 mph fastballs, 90 mph sliders and 82 mph changeups.

“Everything I’m doing now is working good,” Liriano said.

He got into some serious trouble in the fifth, allowing singles to Adrian Beltre and Kenji Johjima and walking Willie Bloomquist on four pitches to start the inning. With Matt Guerrier warming up in the bullpen, Liriano fell behind Yuniesky Betancourt 2-0 before coming back to strike him out swinging.

Ichiro then ripped a line drive to shallow center that had two RBIs written all over it. But Torii Hunter raced in and made a lunging shoestring catch and doubled off Johjima at second base to end the inning.

“You see his stuff,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Making his second start after being one of the dominant short relievers in the league to begin the season, Liriano is being held to a strict pitch count. He was pulled after five innings and 82 pitches.

“Tonight I was feeling a little tired,” Liriano said. “I’ll be ready to go to 90 or 95 pitches next time.”

Guerrier was solid in two innings of relief, allowing one run on a single by Betancourt in the seventh, which snapped Seattle’s string of 21 straight scoreless innings.

Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his sixth save.

The Twins jumped on Hernandez early, opening the second inning with three straight hits to take a 2-0 lead. Tony Batista’s single scored Justin Morneau and Rondell White scored when Juan Castro hit into a double play.

“The homer I gave up to Mauer, I was trying to throw a two-seam fastball,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. “It didn’t do anything, just a straight line in the middle of the plate. That was the only pitch I regret.”

But Hargrove was encouraged by Hernandez’s performance considering he had allowed 17 runs—12 earned—in 10 innings over his last two starts.

“That’s probably the best outing he’s had, once he got past the third,” Hargrove said. “He got five hits by the third inning and he shut them down the rest of the way. That was good to see.”

Notes

Before the game, the Twins held a moment of silence for Lance Cpl. Robert Posivio III, a Marine from southern Minnesota who died in Iraq. … Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law the bill that will fund the public’s portion of a new Twins ballpark in a pregame ceremony. The $522 million, open-air stadium will be ready for the 2010 season. … Hunter’s single in the first extended his hitting streak to 10 games and he has reached base in 21 straight. … Seattle’s Richie Sexson struck out twice, pushing his season total to 57.

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