Indians-Twins Preview

In his first major league start in exactly 19 months, the Minnesota Twins' Francisco Liriano wasn't the same pitcher that dominated hitters during his breakout 2006 season.

Cliff Lee has looked different this year, too.

The left-handers will face off Friday as Lee's Cleveland Indians begin a three-game series in Minneapolis, with Cleveland looking for its eighth straight win against the Twins.

While Lee's revival has been a rare bright spot for the Indians (6-10) this year, the Twins are still hoping Liriano can recapture the form that led him to the All-Star game as a rookie in 2006.

At the time, Liriano's emergence appeared to give the Twins (7-9) two of the best lefties in baseball, along with then-ace Johan Santana. At just 22 years old, Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 28 appearances -- 16 starts -- striking out 144 in 121 innings.

But Santana was traded to the New York Mets in the offseason, and Liriano (0-1, 7.71 ERA) is still recovering after missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He started the season in the minor leagues, and struggled in a 5-1 loss to Kansas City on Sunday.

"I asked him how he felt after (19) months of being out of the big leagues, and he said, 'Cold. Very cold,'" Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His velocity was good. His arm was good. And we can build on that."

Liriano, who said he had trouble establishing his fastball, allowed the Royals four runs on six hits and five walks in 4 2-3 innings. His mound opponent, Kansas City's Brian Bannister, said Liriano didn't rely on his signature slider, which has contributed to his elbow problems.

"He's always had a tremendous slider and been a tremendous strikeout pitcher," Bannister said. "I know that pitch, the way he throws it, is hard on his elbow. And I knew he was going to be trying to throw more for strikes today.

"He's going to be a good pitcher again."

Lee (2-0, 0.61) appears to be a good one right now. His 2007 season included a stint on the disabled list, a trip to the minor leagues and a 6.29 ERA, but this year, he looks more like the pitcher who went 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 2005.

He's allowed just one run in 14 2-3 innings, and was especially impressive in his most recent start, surrendering only one run and two hits and striking out eight in eight innings in a 7-1 win on Sunday against Oakland.

"I had a bad year and I've been anxious to get back and give my team a chance to win games," Lee said.

The Indians haven't won much recently, but manager Eric Wedge held a team meeting before Thursday's game and his team snapped a three-game losing streak with a 11-1 victory over Detroit. Before that, Lee's last start had been Cleveland's only win in a seven-game stretch.

Thursday's win featured a strong performance from starter Fausto Carmona and two-run home runs by Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko.

"Our approach at the plate was better," Wedge said. "We had good at-bats. Individually, they should feed off that."

The Twins have also been struggling, dropping four of their last five and allowing at least five runs each game. They lost 7-3 to Tampa Bay on Thursday, splitting a two-game set with the Rays.

The Indians went 14-4 against the Twins last season, winning their last seven -- including their last four at the Metrodome.

They also chased Liriano after five innings in each of his two starts against them in 2006. Liriano went 1-1, allowing five runs, six walks and three home runs in 10 innings.