Notes: Liriano takes step forward

Notes: Liriano takes step forward

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The only thing that the Twins were able to tell from left-hander Francisco Liriano's first two bullpen sessions this spring was that the pitcher was healthy.

On Sunday, the club's coaching staff got their first true glimpse at the pitcher in action when Liriano threw his first batting practice session.

And they were quite encouraged by what they saw.

"He was better there than he's been in the bullpens and doing his other work," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Liriano's session. "We were kind of worried. At times Frankie can be a little sloppy with some of the things he does. But when he got out there on the mound, and even in the bullpen this morning, he was really locked in."

Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson both remained behind at the Lee County Sports Complex on Sunday morning to watch Liriano's session before heading across town for the Twins' Grapefruit League game against the Red Sox.

Liriano was able to let loose and throw harder in his bullpen session than he had previously. He faced a group of three hitters: catchers Eli Whiteside and Drew Butera and infielder Brendan Harris. It wasn't much of a hitting session, as not a single ball made it out of the infield, although Harris was just taking pitches in the session.

The left-hander threw a well-balanced mix of fastballs, changeups and sliders in his 10-minute session. He pitched without the use of a screen in front of him and seemed most focused on working on his changeup.

"I feel great," Liriano said afterward. "I didn't feel any pain or any soreness at all."

One of the most encouraging signs for both Gardenhire and Anderson was Liriano's better sense of balance and control on the mound.

"You could notice in his delivery that it was calmer," Anderson said. "Talking to him afterwards he said he was trying to be smoother. There are times he will recoil. But at least he's making an effort to try to be smooth getting through it."

Liriano will throw another batting practice on Tuesday and if everything goes well, he could make his Spring Training debut on either Thursday or Friday.

Anderson said the Twins will still be cautious with the pitcher, but he hoped that Sunday's session was a sign of good things to come.

"It's like Gardy keeps saying, he's not a practice guy," Anderson said of Liriano. "Watching his 'pens, you are thinking he's healthy, but he's not real sharp yet. Then today when he's facing hitters, it was like a light went on. So I'm very excited about it."

Wait and see: Outfielder Craig Monroe is not expected to see game action until late in the week due to a muscle strain below his left calf.

Monroe said Sunday that the tightness he's been feeling is between his calf and ankle. He initially felt what he described as a "cramp" on Friday, the day after playing his first game in spikes.

The outfielder has been doing some stretches to loosen the muscle, and Monroe said his leg felt better on Sunday. He even completed some agility work on the field with strength coach Perry Castellano.

While Monroe feels he could be ready for game action as soon as Tuesday, Gardenhire said the club would likely wait longer. The Twins have two long bus trips to the St. Petersburg/Tampa area on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and the club would prefer not to have Monroe try to play after sitting for so long.

"We can take our time here," Gardenhire said. "We know what the guy can do. He's anxious. But he'll get plenty of swings to get ready."

Pitches working: Right-hander Livan Hernandez made his Twins debut on Sunday against what was a pretty stacked Red Sox starting lineup.

Among the hitters that Hernandez had to face in his first spring start were David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis.

Hernandez pitched well against the group, giving up just one run on two hits over his two innings. His lone run came on a solo home run by Lowell to lead off the second inning.

"That was fun to watch," Gardenhire said of Hernandez's performance. "He moves the ball around, changes speed, has a nice feel for the game. He's not afraid to throw any pitch at any time. That's why we signed him."

While Hernandez had success in his first outing, the right-hander said that he's not known for having tremendously strong springs. Of his 10 years in the big leagues, Hernandez said he could remember one or two where he actually pitched well.

"Spring Training you just come and try to work on something," Hernandez said. "I'm working on throwing some sinkers in because I want to get my sinker back."

Quotable: "This was a huge win. We took a deep shot right into their bow today. ... They've had enough champagne the last couple of years." -- Gardenhire, joking about picking up an 8-2 victory in the final of three straight games with the Red Sox and what it means to the two team's annual Mayor's Cup competition

Up next: Left-hander Glen Perkins will make his first start of the spring on Monday in a 12:05 p.m. CT contest at Hammond Stadium against the Reds. Perkins gave up three runs on four hits over one inning on Thursday against Cincinnati. Left-hander Jeremy Affeldt is scheduled to start for the Reds.

In their "B" game with the Red Sox across town on Monday morning, right-hander Jesse Crain will see his first game action since undergoing right shoulder surgery last May. Scott Baker will start that contest for the Twins, and he'll face off against Boston right-hander Josh Beckett.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.