Long road to no-hitter for Liriano

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CHICAGO (AP) - Francisco Liriano showed his potential five years ago as a rookie All-Star and 12-game winner for the Minnesota Twins. Then came the down time, elbow surgery, a missed season and a struggle to regain his form and his confidence.

A year ago he appeared to have found his way back, winning 14 games and the AL Comeback Player award. But when 2011 started, he was having problems again with control and was 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA. His spot in the rotation was in jeopardy.

Then the left-hander took the mound on a cold Tuesday night against the Chicago White Sox and pitched the game of his life, a no-hitter. Now the question: Can he carry that type of effective pitching into the rest of the season?

“You know what? It’s just been a struggle and obviously in the game when you struggle, you put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said Wednesday.

“He’s been doing that, out in games, overthrowing and trying to do a little much to get it going. Last night by no means did he have his greatest stuff, but I think he had great results with it and with that hopefully will build some confidence with him.”

Liriano walked six and got some strong defense behind him, including one nice play by third baseman Danny Valencia, who went into foul territory in the seventh to grab Carlos Quentin’s hard hopper and throw him out. Denard Span made a nice running catch of Quentin’s drive to left center in the fourth. And then in the ninth, with the tension building, first baseman Justin Morneau made a beautiful scoop of a low throw from shortstop Matt Tolbert to retire Brent Morel.

Tolbert then snagged Adam Dunn’s liner to end the game.

Liriano showed up at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday morning, a little more than 12 hours after completing his 2-hour, 9-minute masterpiece _ the first complete game and shutout of his pro career that began back in 2001.

He was weary. And he was the talk of the Dominican Republic.

“Yeah, I got like 55 text messages and a lot of phone calls from family back home. They were pretty happy back home,” Liriano said. “My brothers and sisters and all my friends and cousins. They called until about four in the morning.

“I didn’t sleep at all. Too many phone calls,” he said. “Thinking a lot of stuff, you know. How the game went and everything. Thinking about a lot of stuff.”

Liriano was acquired in a 2003 trade with the San Francisco Giants that also brought Joe Nathan to Minnesota in exchange for A.J. Pierzynski, now the White Sox catcher.

He burst onto the scene in 2006, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and dominating overmatched hitters with an untouchable slider. But the violent delivery caused him to develop arm problems toward the end of the season and resulted in Tommy John surgery that November.

His road back has been long and difficult. Liriano missed all of 2007, spent a good portion of the following season in the minors and then struggled to regain his form over the next two years, leading some to wonder if the power lefty would ever make it all the way back.

He went just 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA in 2009.

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