Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 5/30/12
MINNEAPOLIS With the way he was pitching early on, Francisco Liriano didn't have many reasons to smile this year. But there was no mistaking the grin on his face after he helped the Minnesota Twins sweep the Oakland Athletics with a 4-0 victory Wednesday.It was Liriano's first start since May 7. Since then, the Twins left-hander was demoted to the bullpen for three weeks to help get his mind straight while he looked to regain his form. Before his demotion, he was 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA. Opponents were batting .346 against him, and he walked 19 batters in 26 23 innings.For one day, though, all that misery was put in the past. Liriano was given a new start Wednesday, and he took full advantage. Against a punchless Oakland lineup, Liriano threw six scoreless innings while striking out nine and giving up just three hits and walking two.It was a side of Liriano the Twins had seen before, just not this year. Now that it has resurfaced, Minnesota is hoping to see much more of it the rest of the season."That's the best we've seen him in a while," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after the win. "We were real happy for the young man. He had a smile on his face. We need a lot more of that."While Liriano insists he never lost his confidence, he seemed to battle himself mentally while in the rotation at the start of the year. The walks, the runs, the abbreviated outings all of those were troubling for a pitcher who has, at times, shown that he has the stuff to be a dominant starting pitcher. After Wednesday's encouraging outing, Liriano said he can put his early-season slump in the rear view mirror."I told myself before the game, this is a new start for me today," he said. "Everything that happened in the past, put it behind me and move forward and hope everything goes the way I want to today."In each of his previous six starts, Liriano seemed to run into trouble several times an outing. He was rarely in such a spot Wednesday, if at all. Liriano allowed only two base runners to get past first base on Collin Cowgill's one-out double in the first inning and a hit by Jemile Weeks and a walk to Cowgill in the third. Both times, Liriano avoided adding any fuel to the fire. He was aided in the third inning when Josh Reddick lined into a double play, and Jonny Gomes then struck out swinging to end the inning.Including those two at-bats in the third inning, Liriano retired the last 11 batters he faced. That included swinging strikeouts to the final two batters of the sixth inning."He can do that. That's something that's always a part of Frankie's game is swings and misses," Gardenhire said. "He's got the changeup that dives away and a nasty slider and the delivery. I was more impressed with how he got behind a couple guys and came back throwing that fastball over the plate and not trying to trick people too awful much."Liriano's longest outing this year before Wednesday was 5 13 innings against the Los Angeles Angels. He didn't have a single start in which he allowed fewer than four runs. His season-high for strikeouts was five.But a different Liriano emerged Wednesday. His slider was closer to its dominant form, and he consistently pounded the strike zone with fastball, especially when he fell behind in counts."I feel great. I feel great out there. Physically and mentally, I feel great," Liriano said. "To go out there and just give my team a chance to win a ballgame it's a good feeling."Liriano's day was done after six innings and 88 pitches. Considering it was his first start in more than three weeks, that effort was more than the Twins could have asked for from the left-hander."When he's on, he's an ace, 100 percent," catcher Drew Butera said. "He has an electric fastball, and obviously you know about that slider. When he's got his stuff, when he's throwing strikes, he's a true ace."But a pitcher is only as good as his last start, and Liriano is no exception. Now the question becomes whether Liriano can translate what he did on the mound Wednesday into a string of successful outings the rest of the year."I never lost my confidence, even when I was in the bullpen," Liriano said. " I knew that I wasn't making a lot of mistakes. Knowing that I didn't make any mistakes today is a great feeling. I hope I can do the same thing in the next start." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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