Orioles-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

With the non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching, Francisco Liriano's days with the Minnesota Twins could be numbered.

His stock likely went way up after his most recent outing.

Liriano looks to build on his career-high 15-strikeout performance Wednesday night as the Twins continue a four-game set with the slumping Baltimore Orioles at Target Field.

While the oft-injured left-hander hasn't really been the same since undergoing Tommy John surgery following his spectacular 2006 rookie campaign, Liriano (3-8, 4.93 ERA) has shown glimpses of that form over the past few seasons.

He was at his best Friday against Oakland, making one costly mistake - a grand slam by Jonny Gomes - over eight otherwise dominant innings. He gave up three earned runs, four hits and one walk in a 6-3 loss.

"His stuff was (like in '06)," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Twins' official website. "Disappearing. We saw hitters swinging and actually looking up like, 'What was that?'

"He did everything you're supposed to do as a pitcher. He made one bad pitch after we made some mistakes. I tip my hat to him, son of a gun, that was fun to watch."

Liriano, who went 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA over his first six starts of 2012 before being sent to the bullpen, has gone 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA while striking out 67 over 57 1-3 innings spanning nine outings since rejoining the rotation May 30.

"I think his confidence is high right now, and that's the key to his success," catcher Drew Butera said. "He's not afraid. He goes right after them. He knows his stuff is good enough to get outs."

With Liriano's recent success, however, comes some uncertainty surrounding his future with the team. Liriano, who can become a free agent after this season, is one of a handful of players who could be traded prior to July 31.

"It's casual conversation, as usual," Gardenhire said. "Just walking through and talking to guys. You've got players asking, 'What you do you hear? What's going on?' But I don't go out there and talk trades with them."

After snapping a five-game overall losing streak and a seven-game skid in this series with Monday's 19-7 victory, Minnesota (38-52) added to Baltimore's recent woes with Tuesday's 6-4 win. Batting .400 over his last 23 games, Joe Mauer had three more hits and an RBI as the Twins improved to 21-9 when he drives in at least one run.

"It's kind of one of those, 'Oh well, it's Joe again' type things," Gardenhire said. "We've seen that before. He's won a lot of batting titles doing that same thing. He can flat-out hit. The bottom line is the guy can hit."

Baltimore (46-44) has lost six of seven overall and nine of 12 on the road to drop 10 games behind AL East-leading New York.

"We just need to put it back together," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "It's been a rough couple of games. We need to turn it around."

With Jason Hammel (right knee surgery) out for at least a month, the Orioles are expected to recall Tommy Hunter (3-4, 6.11) from Triple-A Norfolk to take the hill Wednesday. The right-hander gave up a combined 24 runs over his last five starts spanning 28 1-3 innings before being moved to the bullpen and ultimately sent down June 30.

He's been hit especially hard on the road, going 0-3 with an 8.07 ERA over six starts.

Hunter, though, beat Liriano during an 8-2 home victory April 7, allowing two unearned runs over seven-plus innings. Liriano yielded six runs and a season-high eight hits over four innings in that game, dropping to 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA in this series.

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