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Livan in line for Opening Day start

Livan in line for Opening Day start

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's not set in stone, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said on Tuesday that he's leaning toward Livan Hernandez as his Opening Night starter.

"We're kind of trying to go with [Hernandez]," Gardenhire said in his pregame media session. "He's a guy who's done it plenty of times ... He should be the guy. I was kind of leaning that way, but we'll wait and see what happens as we go along here."

Gardenhire broke the news just before the veteran pitcher made his third start of the spring against the Rays. Hernandez pitched four innings, allowing two runs on three hits.

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After his outing, Hernandez said that Gardenhire had already informed him about the likelihood that he will be starting the club's season opener against the Angels on March 31 at the Metrodome. And the right-hander was quite pleased by the news.

"It's an honor," Hernandez said. "I think it's something nice. I told my family, and we're very happy about it."

The Opening Day start would be the eighth of Hernandez's career. He got the nod for the first game of the season with four of his five previous teams: the Marlins, Giants, Expos and Nationals.

That experience is a large reason why Gardenhire said that he's slotting Hernandez into that start -- for now. While there are other talented young arms in the Twins rotation, Gardenhire acknowledged that going with a veteran pitcher reduces the likelihood that he'll be overwhelmed by the experience.

"Opening Day can be pressure," Gardenhire said. "He's the kind of guy that can handle it. Look at how many Opening Day starts he has -- lots of them. You don't put too much pressure on a veteran like that."

Exactly who Hernandez, 33, will face in that first start is still a question mark. The Angels' ace John Lackey has been suffering from some elbow stiffness early this spring and made his Cactus League debut on Monday. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after Lackey's outing that it was "possible, but not probable" that the right-hander would be ready to make the Opening Day start in Minnesota.

While Hernandez is currently in line to start the game, the Twins do want to see some improvement from the right-hander. He is now 1-1 with an 8.00 ERA in his three starts, which included a six-run, 10-hit performance in his second spring outing against the Orioles.

Gardenhire felt Hernandez's outing on Tuesday against the Rays was "better." Hernandez had three quick innings in which he retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, and one that wasn't so easy -- giving up a pair of doubles, a walk and an RBI single in the third.

There have been a few blips early on for the right-hander, but Gardenhire said the team isn't too concerned by the pitcher's Spring Training results. Instead, they are focusing on how his pitches are coming along.

"He knows how to pitch; he's done it," Gardenhire said. "He's proven himself in this league, and I think he probably has another level. I think we've seen it before, so we've kind of learned not to panic."

Hernandez agreed that there are some things he needs to work on before the start of the season, including the feel of his sinker. The right-hander said he's been working on the pitch in his bullpen sessions and threw a few extra in his latest start. But he said his sinker, a pitch that usually is one of the last to come for him, was starting to come around on Tuesday.

So when that Opening Day start comes on the last day of March, Hernandez believes he'll be ready.

"I'm very strong now," Hernandez said. "I'm thinking in two weeks, everything is going to be good."

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

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