MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Francisco Liriano needed a strong start in his return to the Minnesota Twins rotation. The punchless Oakland Athletics provided the perfect remedy for the vexing left-hander's recent struggles.
Liriano's six shutout innings Wednesday led the Twins to a 4-0 victory, the eighth straight loss for the A's.
Manager Bob Melvin said he's as frustrated as ever.
``You've got to give credit to a guy that pitches well and puts up the numbers that he did, but he was also 0-5 with an 8 ERA,' Melvin said.
Liriano (1-5) retired the last 11 batters he faced and struck out nine, the most this season by any Twins pitcher, while lowering his season ERA to a still-ugly 7.20. He allowed only two walks with a double and two singles against the worst-hitting team in the majors that's now batting .210.
Would lineup changes help? The manager said he thinks he's already done what he can with that.
Are the hitters passively waiting for Yoenis Cespedes to return from the disabled list and Manny Ramirez to join the team for the first time?
``I'm certainly not looking. I haven't the whole year. If that's what we're doing in there, then that's my fault. I certainly hope that's not the case,' Melvin said.
Ramirez's 50-game drug suspension expired Wednesday but was still with Triple-A Sacramento. Cespedes is expected to join the A's Friday in Kansas City after completing his rehab assignment for a strained muscle in his left hand.
Josh Willingham had an RBI single and a two-run homer against his previous team, roughly 15 hours after his three-run shot in the ninth gave the Twins a dramatic win the night before. This was their first sweep of both a home series and a three-game set this season.
``We just lose a little bit of our fight sometimes when things go in the other direction early on, and that's not the way we've been,' Melvin said.
Starter Tyson Ross (2-6) lasted only five innings for the A's, who are batting .172 during this losing streak. Ten times in their last 15 games, they've scored two runs or fewer.
``It was a poor outing. My command wasn't great at all. I fell behind hitters, and that's kind of what happens,' Ross said. ``I'll keep grinding it out and just find a solution.'
The right-hander was in trouble right away with a leadoff double by Denard Span. Joe Mauer walked, and Willingham followed with a sharp single. Brian Dozier drove in another run with a single of his own.
After Mauer walked for the third time, in the fifth inning, Willingham hit a no-doubter to the back of the second deck above left field for his 10th home run this year.
Liriano's first six starts were so bad he was put in the bullpen to fix his mind and his mechanics, and his last relief appearance Friday was rough, too - five hits, four runs and two walks in 2 2-3 innings.
For at least one afternoon, Liriano offered some hope - or, perhaps more relevantly, summer trade value. Pitching coach Rick Anderson paid him a visit on the mound after he threw three straight balls to Jonny Gomes in the third inning, but Liriano got back to business and struck the designated hitter out.
``When you get in a little streak like this, guys kind of want to look over their shoulder rather than taking the bull by the horns or grabbing the steering wheel,' Gomes said. ``Success and failure is contagious. When you're failing, you can be like, 'Well, it's no big deal because everyone's failing.' It's kind of a unique situation here, because it's got to be a team effort. There's not going to be a Josh Hamilton or Robinson Cano that we can just lean on.'
NOTES: Melvin said LF Collin Cowgill would be a ``difficult send-down,' when the A's make room for Cespedes. Cowgill is 8 for 14 over his last four games. ... Ross has lost six of his last seven starts with a 7.34 ERA over that span, and he has the highest opponent batting average in baseball for a minimum of 40 innings at .337. Melvin was noncommittal about whether he'd stay in the rotation for his start. ``We'll just have to play it out and see where it goes,' the manager said. ... The A's struck out 230 times in May, their most in one month since they had 233 strikeouts in Aug. 2008. ... This was the second shutout of the season for the Twins and the ninth time the A's were blanked.
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