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Twins: Liriano relieved to learn he'll be a starter

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano looked like a starter in the Twins' 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and, after striking out eight hitters in six shutout innings, the left-hander said that's what he'll be.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano looked like a starter in the Twins' 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and, after striking out eight hitters in six shutout innings, the left-hander said that's what he'll be.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson told Liriano that he will start April 9 in Chicago as the team's fifth starter. Liriano will stay back to pitch in a minor league game Sunday, the day of the Twins' workout in Anaheim, before joining the team in California next week.

Liriano said the news that he'll be a starter rather than a reliever left him, well, relieved. The pitcher came to spring training vying for the fifth spot in the rotation but ended up a candidate for finishing games after Joe Nathan suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

"I've always been a starter. That's what I want to be, and I just want to stay like that," Liriano said. "I just want to do my job, show that I was ready to start."

The Twins' rotation will consist of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey and Liriano.

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Manager Ron Gardenhire acknowledged that the team thought seriously about Liriano closing but decided that all the confidence the left-hander developed while pitching in the Dominican winter league and while amassing 30 strikeouts in 20 innings of work this spring could be zapped by a few blown saves.

"That's why we're leaving him alone. I know all the people say this guy can be the closer, but he can also be a top-of-the-line starter, and that's hard to find," Gardenhire said. "His confidence is at a high right now, which is something we didn't have last year. I really like him throwing the ball the way he's throwing it right now."

Tuesday, Liriano threw 83 pitches in six innings and said he struck out hitters with all three of his pitches: slider, changeup and fastball. He commanded his fastball and seemed comfortable and at ease even with runners on base -- something he struggled with during his 5-13 2009 season.

With one out in the second inning, Liriano walked two consecutive batters, one on five pitches, the other on four, but he finished the inning with a groundout and a swinging strikeout.

"That's why people always say he can be a closer, because a guy like him can pitch himself out of trouble," Gardenhire said. "Not a lot of pitchers have the ability to do that, to get in it and strike people out. That's what a lot of closers can do, and that's why his name came up a lot through the media and baseball people about a closer. He has that kind of stuff."

But Liriano never was comfortable with the idea. Earlier this month Gardenhire called Liriano into his office to talk with him about his role. The 26-year-old was being asked questions about closing after every outing, and so Gardenhire asked him simply what he wanted to do. Liriano replied that he wanted to start.

"You have to want to do it in the first place, to be a closer," Gardenhire said. "You have to want to, and when you finally get a guy back with confidence, that closer role doesn't always leave you confident after games. You have to be able to blow things off quickly. We've thought about it deep and long and hard."

Gardenhire wouldn't officially announce Liriano as his fifth starter because he had to meet with Smith to discuss roster decisions, but the news, to Liriano, wasn't really a surprise.

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"To be honest with you, when I got here, I think when they saw me the first time throw my bullpen, throw my live BP, they knew I was ready," he said. "I was very comfortable. In my mind I thought that I was going to be the No. 5 starter. I didn't think about it too much."

The Twins apparently did.

Related Topics: BASEBALL
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