Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/22/12
It's beginning to sound like a broken record. For the fourth time this season, Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano was shaky. Liriano has allowed five earned runs per outing in all four of his 2012 starts. The latest installment came in Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that left Minnesota with a 3-4 record on its East Coast road trip and raised Liriano's season ERA to 11.02. "It just doesn't look like he's pitching with a lot of confidence right now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Liriano after Sunday's loss. "We've said this over and over again. We're going to step back and see what we need to do to try to help him get his confidence back and try to figure some things out with him." The Twins know a big key to their success especially the success of the pitching staff hinges on Liriano. He's shown flashes that he still has perhaps the best stuff of any pitcher in Minnesota's rotation, but consistency continues to be an issue. That was certainly the case again in Sunday's loss. Like his three previous starts this year, however, the first inning wasn't a problem for Liriano. He has yet to yield a run in the first inning and he cruised through a perfect first on Sunday, inducing a pair of fly outs and struck out Ben Zobrist. Liriano only gave up three hits over five innings, but he hurt his cause by issuing four walks and hitting a batter. In fact, the Rays scored their first two runs of the game before recording a hit Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist drove in runs on sacrifice flies. After the first inning is when it has gotten dicey for Liriano. He had no problem with the second inning Sunday after working around a leadoff walk to Evan Longoria. But Liriano struggled mightily in the third. He walked Sean Rodriguez on five pitches to open the inning and followed that up by walking Chris Gimenez. Liriano then hit Elliot Johnson, which set up the back-to-back sacrifice flies by Jennings and Zobrist. Tampa Bay broke the game open against Liriano in the fifth inning when Jennings hit a two-run homer to left field to make it a 5-0 game. It was the third home run allowed by Liriano in four starts. "As soon as a couple things happened out there, he started misfiring, quit attacking the zone," Gardenhire said. "I think he gets away from his fastball. That's his bread and butter. He pitches off the fastball. We've seen it. You can see him start moping around a little bit on the mound. He's a good pitcher. He's a really good pitcher with great stuff. We just have to figure out a way to get his confidence back up there where he commands everything." Liriano's day was done after just five innings, which matched his longest outing of the season. His season debut lasted four innings, and he went just 2 13 innings on Tuesday against New York. Liriano can be streaky from start to start and, like he was Sunday, from inning to inning. The Twins need him to get back on track and get out of his current rut. "All you have to do is go out have one good start and your confidence comes right back," Gardenhire said. "Right now, we're kind of scuffling along with it. I'll talk to Frankie, we'll talk to the pitching coach and try to figure out what we need to do to help him out." Liriano entered the 2012 regular season after an impressive spring training in which he struck out 33 batters and walked just five in 27 innings of work. He nearly matched his walk total for the entire spring during Sunday's game. Through four starts (16 13 innings), Liriano has already walked 13 batters. The results Liriano showed in spring have yet to translate into the regular season, and it's left his manager searching for answers. "It's a work in progress. It's been tough," Gardenhire said. "He's had a tough start here after a really, really good spring. So we're kind of baffled right now. We'll see what we can do." Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report. Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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