MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - There's no question to Ron Gardenhire that starting pitching is a critical ingredient to winning.
And lately, his Minnesota Twins haven't been getting enough production from their rotation. Their 5-2 loss to AL Central-leading Detroit on Sunday was the latest example of that.
Francisco Liriano struggled with his control from almost his first pitch and gave up four runs on six hits in just 2 1-3 innings. While frequently bouncing sliders, Liriano also walked four, threw two wild pitches and needed 78 pitches to record seven outs. It was the fourth time in five starts against the Tigers that the lefty has failed to pitch beyond the third inning.
``The ball just did not go over the plate,' Gardenhire said. ``That's a rough outing, that's not making any adjustments. Frankie is better than that. He's supposed to be one of our best pitchers and today he didn't get it done.'
Liriano (6-8) left Target Field without speaking with reporters.
For the Twins, Liriano's outing was part of a growing trend of short starts. In losing three of four games to Detroit, the Twins didn't have a starter throw more than six innings and three of them didn't last more than five innings. For the series, Minnesota's starters gave up 16 earned runs in 18 innings of action, an ERA of 8.00.
During the past eight games, Minnesota's starters have a 5.10 ERA.
``When you start hitting up your bullpen all the time early in games, it takes all of the momentum away from you,' Gardenhire said. ``We have to get back to our starters going deep in the game and giving us an opportunity to work ourselves into some games. When you need four innings out of your bullpen, you cannot continue to play baseball that way.'
That lack of production from the rotation is part of reason why Minnesota couldn't gain ground in the AL Central standings during a 12-game homestand that included eight games against Detroit and Cleveland.
``We had some opportunities, we had some teams we could have made some ground up against,' Minnesota designated hitter Jim Thome said. ``It would have been nice to win a series from one of these teams.'
And things don't get easier for the Twins, who are now seven games back of the Tigers. On Monday, Minnesota opens a 10-game road trip with the first of four games at the streaking Texas Rangers.
``They have a team batting average of about .320 lately, so you better pitch,' Gardenhire said. ``We have to start pitching and give our offense a chance to find a way to score runs.'
Detroit opened the scoring in the top of the second Sunday largely because of Liriano's lack of control. With one out, Ryan Raburn walked and he moved to second on a wild pitch by Liriano. After moving to third on Ramon Santiago's single, Raburn scored on Liriano's second wild pitch of the inning.
``He was just trying to do too much with it,' Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer said. ``When Frankie gets into trouble, he overthrows a little bit. When he's nice and relaxed, his ball moves a lot. He was a little excited.'
Detroit scored three more runs in the third, two on singles from Magglio Ordonez and Wilson Betemit, and one on Santiago fielder's choice.
``We're fortunate that Liriano didn't have his command today,' Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. ``He's a good pitcher and a lot of times those balls look like strikes and you want to swing at them. We did a good job avoiding that today.'
Minnesota got little going offensively against Detroit's Rick Porcello (10-6). The right-hander allowed two runs on five hits in six innings and improved to 4-0 this month.
Starting pitching is a big reason the Tigers lead the AL Central by two games, their biggest lead this season. With Sunday's win, Porcello joins teammates Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer with 10 wins. The Rangers are the only other team with three 10-game winners.
``We've got to play,' Gardenhire said. ``We need some offense, we need some starting pitching to take hold and get rolling again to give us any opportunity to catch anybody.'
Notes: Twins starter Scott Baker threw 82 pitches over five shutout innings on Saturday, his first game back from a right flexor strain. Manager Ron Gardenhire said Baker should be able to throw 100 pitches in his next start. ... Leyland gave C Alex Avila his first day off since starting in the All Star game. ... The Twins will carry 13 pitchers on the roster to start their 10-game road trip on Monday. ... Leyland on former Twins pitcher and current Minnesota broadcaster Bert Blyleven entering the Hall of Fame: ``His day has finally arrived, and deservedly so. There's nowhere else to go after that, unless you make it upstairs.'
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