MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Francisco Liriano took another loss.
But the Minnesota Twins didn't mind too much. They saw another credible performance from their most mercurial pitcher, at least, despite the lopsided defeat.
Ryan Dempster further raised his trade value with eight shutout innings, pitching the Chicago Cubs past the Twins 8-2 on Sunday.
After an 18-start winless streak dating to last August 11, Dempster (2-3) won his second game this week, another gem for this Cubs team that brought the worst record in the majors into the afternoon. He allowed four singles, walked one, hit a batter and struck out six, three by Joe Mauer, to help the Cubs win for only the fifth time in their past 25 games.
``It seemed like he had everything going today in my at_bats,' Mauer said.
Dempster lowered his ERA to 2.31 and handed the Twins just their third loss in the past 12 games.
Alfonso Soriano, who homered three times in the first two games of the series, hit another ball hard, a two-out double in the first inning against Liriano (1-7). Left fielder Josh Willingham had trouble tracking the ball, turning back and forth in the bright sun until Soriano's drive glanced off his glove.
Soriano batted .316 with 12 RBIs and eight runs on this 10-game trip, and the Cubs won against a left-handed starter for only the third time in 16 tries this year. But Liriano retired 13 of the next 14 batters after that to lock with Dempster in a legitimate duel of could-be-dealt-soon pitchers until faltering in the sixth and failing to complete that inning.
``Everything's getting better,' Liriano said, adding: ``I'm throwing more strikes and making more pitches.'
Like Dempster, Liriano is in the final year of his contract for a non-contending team, though his erratic performance earlier this season and last will make it harder for the Twins to gain quality prospects in return.
The 35-year-old Dempster, however, has been the rock of the rotation for the Cubs. He has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts and finished six or more innings 10 times.
Dempster threw 38 of his first 47 pitches for strikes and dug deep when he did find trouble against a Twins team batting .302 with runners in scoring position since May 16 entering Sunday. Justin Morneau grounded out with two runners on to end the first. Mauer struck out to finish the third with a man on third. Ben Revere bounced out to end the fifth with two on base.
``He throws the ball where he wants it,' said third baseman Trevor Plouffe, one of three players who tried to bunt against Dempster for a change of pace. ``He doesn't leave too much over the plate.'
After two strong starts in his return to the rotation, Liriano regressed a bit but was still in fine form for most of his appearance. He gave up four hits, four runs and three walks in 5 1-3 innings to leave with a 4-0 deficit, but he struck out six and could've matched Dempster's scoreless streak had a ball or two bounced another way.
The leadoff walk to Reed Johnson, who started the game with a single, cost him badly in the sixth.
``Every time I walk a guy,' Liriano sighed, ``it seems like he scores.'
Starlin Castro followed with a sharp double, David DeJesus drove in a run with a groundout and Joe Mather's RBI double prompted the pitching change by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
``He made some really good pitches. To their credit they fouled some pitches off,' catcher Drew Butera said. ``They did a good job in that inning of making him throw and making him execute pitches more than he had to.'
Indeed, his fastball was on target and his slider was sharp. It just wasn't enough.
``Just keep running him out there. He's got a great arm. He can give you an opportunity to win a ballgame,' Gardenhire said.
Ryan Doumit's sacrifice fly against Cubs closer James Russell in a non-save situation in the ninth finally put the Twins on the board, and Jamey Carroll tacked on an RBI double. But Dempster put them in too big of a hole.
``There wasn't a lot of life in our dugout. That's because of him,' Gardenhire said.
NOTES: The Twins need another starter in six days, and Gardenhire said RH Liam Hendriks could be called up from Triple-A Rochester. Hendriks, who started the season in the rotation before being sent down in May, struck out 10 in 8 2-3 shutout innings for the Red Wings on Saturday. ... Willingham's 12-game hitting streak ended. He's one of only two players in the majors this year with two separate such streaks of 12 games or more. San Francisco's Angel Pagan is the other.
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