Joe Mauer's absence finally seems to have caught up with the Minnesota Twins. Fortunately for the AL Central leaders, Francisco Liriano hasn't needed much run support.
Liriano looks to win his fifth straight start and the Twins hope to bounce back from one of their worst performances at the plate this season as they face the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night.
After winning four straight, Minnesota (19-10) opened this four-game series with a 2-0 loss Thursday night.
It was the second time the Twins have been shut out this season. They had been handling Mauer's injury well, averaging 6.2 runs and batting .322 in their previous five games without him.
The reigning AL MVP was hurt last Friday while running out a grounder at Cleveland, suffering a deep bruise on his left heel. He took early batting practice before Thursday's game and is feeling better, but doesn't know when he'll be back at full strength.
"I want to play and I want to feel well, but you have to be smart about it," Mauer told the Twins' official website.
Rookie Wilson Ramos has hit .400 in five games as Mauer's replacement. He'll likely be behind the plate again as Liriano (4-0, 1.50 ERA) tries to give the Twins another dominant start.
The left-hander has posted a 0.90 ERA in winning his last four outings, striking out 33 in 30 innings. It's his longest such streak since winning six straight in 2006, when he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie.
Liriano missed all of '07 due to Tommy John surgery, then went 11-17 with a 5.12 ERA the past two years, but he appears to finally be regaining his previous form. He gave up three runs and struck out nine in seven innings of an 8-3 win over Cleveland on Sunday.
Liriano won his only start against the Orioles (8-21), surrendering one hit and striking out six in seven innings of a 4-0 win June 11, 2006.
Baltimore second baseman Ty Wigginton has never faced Liriano, but he has every reason to be confident going into his first at-bat against him. Wigginton hit his 10th home run Thursday, one short of his total last season, to help the Orioles snap a three-game losing streak.
Wigginton has moved into second place behind Chicago's Paul Konerko (12) for the AL lead in homers. Wigginton, though, has been getting little help, with the Orioles totaling nine runs while going 0 for 18 with runners in scoring position over their last four games.
Kevin Millwood (0-3, 3.15), set to take the mound for Baltimore, would have every reason to be frustrated by the poor run production.
Despite pitching well, he remains winless in his first season with the Orioles. The veteran right-hander has gotten two runs or fewer two work with in each of his last five outings.
Millwood gave up two runs in eight innings as Baltimore beat Boston 3-2 in 10 innings Sunday.
Millwood also is winless in 12 starts against the Twins, but that has more to do with his ineffectiveness, going 0-7 with a 5.90 ERA.
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