Found March 08, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
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FORT MYERS, Fla. A year ago, Francisco Liriano entered spring training with a nagging shoulder injury that stuck with him for nearly all of the 2011 season. This year is a different story for the Twins left-hander, who says he came to camp feeling healthy. He proved it Thursday, striking out five Rays batters in three innings of work in Minnesota's 1-0 loss at Hammond Stadium. Liriano allowed just one hit and didn't walk a batter. He faced the minimum through three innings as leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings was caught stealing after opening the game with a single. Liriano struck out two runners in both the first and second inning and induced a pair of grounders to shortstop to end the third inning and his day. "The way I feel right now, nothing's bothering me right now," Liriano said after Thursday's start. That's a far cry from last year, when he was placed on the disabled list twice, both times with shoulder problems. But Liriano had a healthy offseason and played winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. "Last year I came in with a shoulder problem, all that stuff. This year, I played winter ball and I think I got myself ready for spring," Liriano said. "For me, it's a big difference to pitch winter ball. When I go home and I don't pitch winter ball, I feel like I haven't pitched for like a year." Liriano was efficient in his three innings of work, throwing just 34 pitches. Four of those were sliders, pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "I thought he was good. I thought he worked good in the strike zone," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Andy and I were talking early that it looked like he was flying out, but he really commanded it pretty good. He controlled the game out there." Liriano had a career-high 75 walks in 134 13 innings last season, including six during his no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. But he rarely fell behind in the count Thursday. "That's what I'm trying to do, just go deeper in the game, throw less pitches per inning," Liriano said. "I think I'm getting better at that." The 28-year-old Liriano was 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA last season after an impressive 2010 campaign in which he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA. Like many other Twins from last year's 99-loss team, Liriano will need to stay healthy to post numbers resembling his stats from 2010. "Just trying to locate my pitches and stay healthy," Liriano said of his goals for spring. "When I'm pitching, I just go out there and try and do my job, hit my spot with my fastball and try to locate all my pitches." Mauer goes hitless but throws out a runner: Twins catcher Joe Mauer was 0-for-2 with a strikeout Thursday, but he impacted the game with his defense. Mauer threw out Rays left fielder Desmond Jennings in the first inning after Jennings tried to steal second base. Various ailments last year affected Mauer's ability to throw, but he fired on the money to second base Thursday to nail Jennings. "Joe can throw. When he's out there on the field and feeling good, he's got a cannon. We all know that," Gardenhire said. "He's feeling good. You can see it. He's moving around good, he's swinging good. He's doing everything." Mauer won't catch in Friday's home game against St. Louis, but Gardenhire said he will be the Twins' designated hitter. Mauer will have Saturday off when Minnesota travels to Bradenton to face the Pirates. White back in coach's box: Minnesota first base coach Jerry White was hospitalized earlier this week with stomach and chest tightness, but he was back at his post near first base during Thursday's game at Hammond Stadium. He also coached first base on the road Wednesday in Sarasota. "It was real bad," White said. "I was just kind of hoping to be there for one night and then went home and tried to lay down right away, and boom." Before Thursday's game, White said he "overdid it" while lifting weights, which was part of the problem. He also attributed his heartburn-like symptoms to his diet. "I just need to cut down on my spices and sauces," White said. "I eat right. I like hot stuff and fried stuff. I need to get away from that." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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