Mauer, Morneau back Liriano's strong outing

Mauer, Morneau back Liriano's strong outing

Mauer, Morneau back Liriano's strong outing
ARLINGTON -- It's certainly not a stretch to say Francisco Liriano has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since rejoining the Twins' rotation on May 30 after a stint in the bullpen.

Over his last eight starts, Liriano hasn't remotely resembled the left-hander who struggled to start the season with a 9.45 ERA over his first six starts.

Instead, he's been pitching like an ace, and he dominated yet again with another strong outing, while Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau each drove in two runs to lead the Twins to a 5-1 win over the Rangers on Friday night at Rangers Ballpark.

Liriano, who has a 2.74 ERA with 52 strikeouts and 24 walks in 49 1/3 innings over his last eight starts, gave up just one run on five hits over 6 2/3 innings. He did issue a season-high six walks, but also struck out six.

It's been an impressive turnaround to say the least, and Liriano did his best to describe what has changed for him over his last eight starts.

"I think it's been being more consistent," Liriano said. "I'm going out there not trying to do too much or thinking too much or be too perfect coming to the plate. I've made some big pitches when I've needed to. I've been more consistent hitting my spots. I think it's been the difference. I was throwing a lot of pitches and not getting a whole lot of swings and misses. So, location-wise, it's been the whole difference."

Catcher Drew Butera, who has been behind the plate in each of Liriano's last eight starts, also pointed to consistency as the reason for Liriano's success.

"We all know he has the stuff," Butera said. "He has swing-and-miss stuff. He has No. 1 stuff. So, for him, it's about staying within himself and staying consistent. Just throwing strike one and trying not to do too much."

Liriano was backed by a strong showing from the offense, as the Twins used a three-run third inning against left-hander Martin Perez -- keyed by an error by first baseman Mike Napoli -- to their advantage.

Ben Revere walked and scored on a two-out single from Mauer for the first run of the inning. Josh Willingham then hit a high pop up behind first base that was misplayed by Napoli and dropped in for a run-scoring two-base error. Morneau made the Rangers pay for their mistake with an RBI single to right.

They tacked on another run in the fourth, when Mauer brought home a run with a sacrifice fly to center field with the bases loaded.

The Rangers didn't get on the board until the sixth, as Nelson Cruz laced an RBI single after Adrian Beltre singled and Michael Young walked. But Liriano was able to limit the damage by getting Napoli to ground into a double play and striking out Yorvit Torrealba.

"He was wild," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Liriano. "I wouldn't say he was wildly effective. The thing is, we got the people on the bag. We just didn't take advantage. I think if we could have put something together when he was in that state, maybe things would have been different. But we didn't put anything together. We only scored one run."

Morneau gave the Twins an insurance run in the seventh on a solo shot off reliever Tanner Scheppers. It was Morneau's 11th homer of the year and his first since June 4.

"He crushed that home run," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He jumped on a high fastball, from a guy throwing very hard, and really turned on it. We've seen that a lot here, and it was nice to see him do it."

Liriano ran into trouble again in the seventh, when he walked Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus with one out. He struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Snyder for the second out and was removed for reliever Jared Burton, who got out of the jam by getting Beltre to line out to right.

Burton tossed a scoreless eighth inning before handing it over to left-hander Glen Perkins, who finished it off in the ninth to give the Twins their sixth victory in their last eight games.

"We'll take any wins we can get right now," Revere said. "It's been going pretty well. We've doing everything right. Baseball is all about scoring runs and pitching, and we've been doing both. We've had a tough schedule the last week, but we've competed and have brought out our 'A' game."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.