As a result, the Kansas City Royals snapped a three-game losing streak on a frigid Sunday afternoon with a 5-1 victory over the Twins and Liriano, who was making his first major league appearance in 17 months.
“I knew Liriano was coming back from an injury, he was rehabbing,” said Bannister (3-0), who went nine innings and allowed only three hits. “My goal was to get on and off the field as fast as possible and keep him out there, because I knew he was going to get tired. I’ve been in that situation before.”
Performing almost as briskly as the stiff breeze that dropped the wind chill to 29 degrees at game time, Bannister pitched the second complete game of his career, giving up only one walk and one unearned run. He struck out three.
Liriano (0-1), an All-Star as a rookie sensation in 2006 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, gave up six hits, walked five and struck out four. Just as Bannister predicted, the big left-hander tired. Nevertheless, his 4 2-3 innings made for an encouraging day.
“I asked him how he felt after 17 months of being out of the big leagues, and he said, ‘Cold. Very cold,”’ Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “His velocity was good. His arm was good. And we can build on that.”
Liriano threw 90 pitches, 51 for strikes. He admitted to a few butterflies.
“I couldn’t establish the fastball. I couldn’t throw my fastball,” he said. “If I can establish my fastball, I can do better. I was kind of nervous the first couple of innings, but then I got loose.”
Bannister, in three starts covering 21 innings, has allowed only two earned runs for an ERA of 0.86.
“I came up with Liriano,” Bannister said. “I played with him at several different levels. He’s always had a tremendous slider and been a tremendous strikeout pitcher. I know that pitch, the way he throws it, is hard on his elbow. And I knew he was going to be trying to throw more for strikes today.
“He’s going to be a good pitcher again. We were just trying to take advantage of the fact we knew he was going to get tired in the third or fourth inning.”
Liriano, who was 11-3 with a 1.92 ERA in 16 starts as a rookie, underwent ligament replacement surgery in his left elbow on Nov. 6, 2006, and sat out the ’07 season. In five starts in the spring, he was 2-2 with a 4.02 ERA.
“Everything’s fine. Nothing’s bothering me,” he said.
Billy Butler, stretching his hitting streak to 12 games, tied it 1-all with an RBI single in the first inning, snapping a 26-inning scoreless streak for the Royals. Miguel Olivo’s double made it 2-1 in the second.
“We saw a great pitching performance against us today,” said Gardenhire. “Bannister didn’t give us much of a chance. He had great stuff and located the ball so well.”
The Royals are 7-5 after 12 games but their staff ERA of 2.58 leads the AL. … Bannister’s other complete game was a 9-2 victory over Oakland last Aug. 17. … Butler’s streak is the longest current streak in the AL. Nate McLouth of Pittsburgh extended his streak to 12 games on Sunday with a hit against Cincinnati. … The three hits were a season low for the Twins.