FORT MYERS, Fla. Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano cruised through his first two starts of the spring, throwing a total of five scoreless innings. Through two more scoreless innings Tuesday against Toronto, he seemed to be continuing that trend in start No. 3.
But the wheels fell off for Liriano in the third inning as he allowed four runs on four Blue Jays hits, including back-to-back doubles on consecutive pitches by Travis Snyder and Travis d'Arnaud in Minnesota's 8-2 loss to Toronto.
Prior to Tuesday, Liriano surrendered just two hits in five combined scoreless innings against Boston and Tampa Bay. Last Thursday against the Rays, Liriano recorded five strikeouts in three innings of work. He routinely worked ahead in the count in that start while keeping his pitch count low.
Tuesday was a different story. Twice in the second inning, Liriano fell behind batters by 3-1 counts. While he retired both hitters, he still saw his pitch count climb.
In the third, Liriano allowed three hits at the top of the inning before recording an out. After striking out Rajai Davis, Liriano gave up the pair of RBI doubles.
"I think I was rushing. I think I was trying to throw too hard and just rushing my fastball," Liriano said. "I was kind of all over the place."
Liriano's pace and calmness on the mound is something pitching coach Rick Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire have talked to him about for years. It was an issue again in Tuesday's four-run third inning.
"Frankie just got some balls up and got whacked. He left some pitches up," Gardenhire said. "It's all about slowing it down and not rushing, pitch by pitch and not trying to get ahead of yourself and not overthrowing it. He had a chance to put some people away. He just spun it up and didn't get over."
Several relievers impressive: Aside from a four-run outing from right-handed reliever Alex Burnett in two-thirds of an inning, the rest of the Twins' bullpen held Toronto scoreless Tuesday. Kyle Waldrop, Jared Burton, Deolis Guerra and Scott Diamond all pitched one shutout inning, while Matt Maloney threw 1 13 scoreless innings.
Gardenhire talked after the game about Waldrop and Maloney in particular. Waldrop, 26, made his major league debut last season with Minnesota, pitching in seven games. In three relief appearances this spring, he has allowed just two hits and zero runs in three innings of work.
Gardenhire was asked Tuesday if he thought Waldrop was major league-ready.
"You're going to get a lot of different opinions," Gardenhire said. "If you're asking mine, I say yes."
Maloney, 28, pitched in 22 total games with Cincinnati from 2009-11, including 11 as a starter. Like Waldrop, the left-handed Maloney has yet to surrender a run this spring in 5 13 innings.
On Tuesday, Maloney entered the game after Burnett struggled in the sixth inning. After recording the final out of the inning, Maloney pitched a perfect seventh inning and finished the day with three strikeouts.
"He threw the ball good. He can spin it," Gardenhire said of Maloney. "We like to see him. He got a chance to face some lefties, which is a good thing. We kind of like to see that, come out there and get a chance to face two or three lefties and spin the ball. That's good stuff."
Span still out: Center fielder Denard Span was hoping he might return to the field Tuesday after missing time with a stiff neck. But Span was not in the lineup against Toronto and didn't see the field.
He did take batting practice with the rest of the team, however. Span said he saw a chiropractor on Monday for an adjustment and thinks the neck first stiffened up prior to Minnesota's game Saturday against the Pirates in Bradenton.
Span said he felt much better Tuesday than he did when the injury first occurred.
"Nothing serious, probably just a spasm," Span said. "It's something that'll go away. It'll probably take a little time for it to fully go away. I feel OK. Compared to how I felt two days ago, my range of motion is a lot better. Hopefully soon I'll be back on the field."
Span is scheduled to make the trip Wednesday to Clearwater, which means he'll likely play against the Phillies if everything goes accordingly.
Nishioka to start Wednesday: Gardenhire said infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka will start at shortstop on Wednesday against the Phillies. Nishioka has missed the Twins' last three games with a sprained left pinkie, but will be in the lineup in Clearwater.
In six games this spring, Nishioka is batting .278 (5-for-18) with a triple and a run scored.
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