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Dave Campbell / AP Sports Writer, Published May 30 2012

Liriano shuts down A's in return to Twins rotation

MINNEAPOLIS – The Oakland Athletics were swinging and missing, and Francisco Liriano kept on firing those fastballs, sliders and changeups in the strike zone that has eluded him so often this year and last.

For one afternoon, the Minnesota Twins enjoyed that All-Star-like pitching performance they’ve been longing for.

Liriano’s return to the rotation was a rousing success, with six shutout innings by the vexing left-hander Wednesday to lead the Twins to a 4-0 victory over the Athletics, their eighth straight loss.

“I told myself before the game, ‘The season starts for me today. So everything that happened previously, I had to put it behind me and move forward,’ ” said Liriano (1-5), who retired the last 11 batters he faced in a game that lasted only 2 hours, 16 minutes.

He struck out nine, the most this season by any Twins pitcher. He allowed only two walks with a double and two singles against the worst-hitting team in the majors, batting a brutal .210.

“The big thing for me: He kept his composure,” catcher Drew Butera said, adding: “He has an electric fastball, and obviously you know about that slider. When he’s got his stuff, when he’s throwing strikes, he’s a true ace.”

Josh Willingham had an RBI single and a two-run homer, 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.

Tyson Ross (2-6) lasted only five innings for the A’s, who are batting .172 during the eight-game skid. Ten times in that stretch, they’ve scored two runs or fewer. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he’s as frustrated as ever.

“Before this stretch that we’re on right now, we’ve been a team that’s been really scrappy and that’s how we were finding our identity with that, that’s who we believed we were,” Melvin said. “These losing streaks can take on a life of their own, and they’re not going to just end because they’re going to end. We have to take ownership in it.”

That’s what the Twins needed Liriano to do for the sake of his careening career, which despite a stellar rookie year in 2006 and a solid season in 2010 has been mostly marked by injury and inconsistency.

“We need him in the rotation. I think the story’s been told too many times about how good his stuff is. He’s got to go out on the field and get it done, and today was a good start. We’ll work from there,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

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 2Xc innings.

The Twins had little choice but to put him back as a starter. Triple-A call-ups Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters have helped stabilize the situation, but the rotation has by far the highest collective ERA in the majors.

“Even when I was struggling, I didn’t lose my confidence at all. I knew that I was making a lot of mistakes,” Liriano said.

Oakland Minnesota

ab r h bi ab r h bi

JWeeks 2b 4 0 1 0 Span cf 4 1 1 0

Cowgill lf 3 0 1 0 Revere rf 3 0 1 0

Reddck rf 4 0 0 0 Mauer dh 1 2 0 0

JGoms dh 3 0 0 0 Wlngh lf 4 1 2 3

Dnldsn 3b 3 0 0 0 Mornea 1b 3 0 0 0

KSuzuk c 3 0 0 0 Dozier ss 4 0 1 1

Barton 1b 3 0 0 0 ACasill 2b 3 0 1 0

Crisp cf 3 0 1 0 Butera c 3 0 0 0

Pnngtn ss 2 0 0 0 JCarrll 3b 3 0 0 0

Totals 28 0 3 0 Totals 28 4 6 4

Oakland 000 000 000— 0

Minnesota 200 020 00x— 4

DP—Oakland 1, Minnesota 2. LOB—Oakland 4, Minnesota 5. 2B—Cowgill (1), Span (14), A.Casilla (8). HR—Willingham (10). SB—Revere (4). CS—Revere (1). S—Revere.

IP H R ER BB SO

Oakland

T.Ross L,2-6 5 6 4 4 3 1

Carignan 1 0 0 0 0 2

Norberto 1 0 0 0 0 0

J.Miller 1 0 0 0 0 2

Minnesota

Liriano W,1-5 6 3 0 0 2 9

Al.Burnett 2 0 0 0 1 0

Gray 1 0 0 0 0 1

HBP—by T.Ross (Morneau).

T—2:16. A—35,103 (39,500).