FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) -Francisco Liriano's latest spring gem showed exactly why the Minnesota Twins see him as a starter and not a closer right now.
Liriano all but locked up the final spot in the Twins' rotation on Tuesday, striking out eight in six shutout innings of Minnesota's 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Liriano also walked three, and said after the game he'd been told he will be the Twins' fifth starter. He was competing with Brian Duensing for the job and also was discussed as a possible replacement for injured closer Joe Nathan.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire played it coy, saying that he still had to meet with general manager Bill Smith and would not be ready to make an official announcement. But Liriano appeared to do that for him.
``They told me I'm pitching Game 5 (against the Chicago White Sox on April 9),' Liriano said.
Liriano said he will stay in Fort Myers when the Twins head north and make one final appearance in a minor league game on Sunday, then join the team in Anaheim, Calif., for the opening series against the Los Angeles Angels.
``I didn't tell him he will be the fifth starter. But I told him he is the leading candidate to be the fifth starter,' Gardenhire said. ``We haven't named it per se. Maybe he named it, because he probably could. He probably took a big lead right there.'
Pirates starter Charlie Morton was almost as sharp on Tuesday. He allowed one run - a solo homer to Jason Kubel - on five hits with three strikeouts in six innings. Pittsburgh did not play anyone who is likely to be part of the opening day lineup.
All those backups were no match for Liriano, who is looking more and more like the pitcher who went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA four years ago.
Liriano was an All-Star in 2006 before arm troubles derailed him for most of the last three seasons. He missed all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery and was 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA last season. After a dominant winter ball season in his native Dominican Republic, Liriano showed up to spring training brimming with confidence.
He has struck out 30 in 20 innings this spring and has a 2.70 ERA.
``That's kind of why we're leaving him alone and not messing with him,' Gardenhire said. ``I know people are saying he could be a closer, but he can also be a top-of-the-line starter, and that's hard to find, too. His confidence is at a high right now, which is something we didn't have last year.'
Nathan had Tommy John surgery on his injured right elbow on Friday. With no clear-cut successor in the Twins bullpen, attention turned to Liriano, who has an overpowering slider that would make him ideal for the role. But the lefty quickly made it clear that he wanted to remain a starter, and that's how it has played out.
``I've always been a starter,' Liriano said. ``That's what I want to be and I just want to stay right there. I just want to do my job, show them that I was ready to start. I think I did my job.'
NOTES: Twins C Wilson Ramos, fighting to make the team as a backup to Joe Mauer, hit a monstrous home run over the batter's eye in CF. He is hitting .400 this spring. ... Twins LHP Jose Mijares is scheduled to see an eye doctor on Wednesday because of blurred vision. ... The Pirates reassigned RHPs Jeff Karstens, Brian Bass, Vinnie Chulk, Steven Jackson, Jeremy Powell and Anthony Claggett and C Luke Carlin to their minor league camp.
The Associated Press News Service
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