Liriano's absence indefinite after second MRI

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins are optimistic, but not totally
confident, that injured left-hander Francisco Liriano will return
this season.

Liriano, 12-3 with a league-leading 2.19 ERA, had a second, enhanced MRI exam Thursday when a shot of dye was injected into his arm for a better reading.

The test showed a mild chronic strain of his ulnar collateral ligament, and a clinical exam revealed weakness and stiffness in his shoulder that is causing that soreness in his forearm near his elbow.

Team physician Dr. John Steubs said Thursday night that he was "optimistic, but not totally confident" that Liriano would pitch again in 2006. For now, he'll treat the shoulder and elbow with physical therapy.

The Twins held a half-game lead in the AL wild-card race going
into Thursday night's game against Toronto, which they lost 5-0.
Manager Ron Gardenhire said following the game that he
"absolutely" expected Liriano to return this year, but he refused
to put a timetable on it. "However long that takes, that takes,"
Gardenhire said.

Liriano was upbeat in the Minnesota clubhouse before the game, though that was before the test results came back. After skipping one start to rest, Liriano was roughed up in Detroit on Monday and lasted only four innings because of persistent soreness near the elbow. Afterward in the clubhouse, he was near tears while answering questions from reporters.

Steubs said the problem wasn't made worse by Monday's outing.

Liriano said he was planning to pitch again when he's eligible to come off the disabled list in less than two weeks, but the Twins will certainly be cautious about bringing him back too soon. They're listing Liriano's absence as indefinite.

"I feel better," Liriano said. "It's not as sore."

The 22-year-old said he made a mistake by not telling manager Ron Gardenhire or pitching coach Rick Anderson about his condition sooner. He first noticed pain in July, after his second outing following the All-Star break.

"I'll be all right," Liriano said. "Everything happens for a reason. I've just got to be patient."

Liriano had a similar issue in the minors in 2002, which he said kept him out four starts.

"I've just got to stay healthy and do whatever is best for me," he said.

Meanwhile, Matt Garza prepared for his first major league start. Full of talent and confidence, Garza himself could not have imagined making it up this fast.

Called up this week, Garza will make his debut Friday night against Toronto. It's the latest stop on a speedy professional journey that began last summer when the Twins drafted him in the first round out of Fresno State.

Garza started the season at Class-A Fort Myers, then moved to Double-A New Britain and after that to Triple-A Rochester, dominating each level. In his minor league career, including stints last year in rookie league and low Class A, Garza is 18-8 with a 2.73 ERA and 243 strikeouts in 37 starts.

"It's always fun," Garza said. "That's what you basically want to come into. You want to come into something that means something. I just want to have a blast and enjoy every minute of it."

Though Garza will be watched carefully and told not to overdo it, Gardenhire was not worried about handing the ball to a 22-year-old during a playoff chase.

"Like a kid in a candy store," Gardenhire said. "I really believe he'll handle it pretty decently."