Agent wants players' union to investigate Twins' call-up snub of Liriano

MINNEAPOLIS -- After watching his client dominate Triple-A hitters for the past month, the agent for Minnesota pitcher Francisco Liriano wants to know why the Twins have not called him up to the big leagues.

Greg Genske has asked the players' union to investigate why Liriano remains in Rochester despite going 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his past nine starts.

"I think that Francisco is dominating down there," Genske said Thursday. "The club concedes that as well. We're a little frustrated he hasn't been called up."

The news was first reported by Foxsports.com.

Genske said the delay has had an adverse effect on Liriano's service time, which determines when he is eligible for arbitration. After three years in the big leagues, a player qualifies for arbitration. Liriano has two years and 45 days.

Twins GM Bill Smith said the decision to keep Liriano, who was selected to the AL All-Star team during his brilliant rookie season in 2006, in the minors has nothing to do with service time.

The Twins have been one of the best teams in baseball over the past six weeks. They have won 21 of 28 thanks in large part to a young rotation that has outperformed expectations. Scott Baker, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have pitched so well to help the Twins head into the All-Star break just 1½ games behind the White Sox in the AL Central that it has been difficult to find room in the rotation for Liriano.

"Obviously all of that stuff has an effect," Smith said. "When the major league team is playing well, that affects all the players in the minor leagues."

Even a prized pitcher like Liriano, who went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings before arm problems cut short his rookie year. He had Tommy John surgery on Nov. 6, 2006, and missed all of last season while recovering.

Liriano thought he was ready coming out of spring training this year. But he went 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA in April and was promptly sent down to the minors to work on things.

He hasn't allowed an earned run in his past three starts for the Red Wings and has 24 strikeouts and three walks during that span.

"The kid's doing great. He's doing fantastic. I'm really happy for him," Smith said. "I'm confident that he's going to make a big impact on this club in the near future."

Exactly where he will make that impact is still up for debate. Livan Hernandez is the lone veteran in the rotation and has been a great mentor to the young guns behind him.

He is 9-6 with a 5.44 ERA and is on pace to become the first pitcher since Atlanta's Phil Niekro in 1979 to allow more than 300 hits in a season, making his spot the most vulnerable in the rotation at the moment.

But the Twins also love Hernandez's big-game experience as a balance for Blackburn, Slowey, Baker and Perkins, none of whom have started in the postseason.

Another option would be for Liriano to join the bullpen, which would give the Twins the intimidating eighth-inning setup man for All-Star closer Joe Nathan that they lost when Pat Neshek went out with an arm injury.

Matt Guerrier has been solid in that role and Jesse Crain has been up and down in his opportunities there, but the Twins also see Liriano as a full-time starter and may not want to tinker with that for the second half of the season.

"I can't say enough good things about what Francisco Liriano has done in the last year and a half," Smith said. "He's done everything he could have in the rehab and he's made great progress in the last few months. We'll go from there."

Whenever and wherever Liriano rejoins the Twins, it will be a big boost for a surprising team that is looking to make a run at its fifth playoff appearance in seven seasons.

Despite trading ace Johan Santana to the Mets and losing star center fielder Torii Hunter to the Angels in free agency, the Twins (53-42) are 11 games over .500 and right on the heels of the White Sox for the division lead.

Youngsters like center fielder Carlos Gomez, second baseman Alexi Casilla and outfielder Denard Span have electrified a lineup with All-Stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

After Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert went down with injuries, Casilla cemented himself as the everyday second baseman, hitting .315 with 13 doubles and 36 RBIs in 52 games.

Span -- .324, .429 on-base percentage -- has filled in for the injured Michael Cuddyer in right field and Brian Buscher -- .313, 26 hits in 24 games -- has softened the blow of Mike Lamb's struggles at third base.

"You're going to live with some ups and downs, but if you get 'em believing, pulling for each other, that's the biggest part of the battle," manager Ron Gardenhire said before the break. "Rather than focusing on 'am I going to stay here?' or 'am I going to get sent down?' Looking over their shoulder. I think that's the biggest challenge."