Francisco Liriano is a difficult pitcher to figure out.
When the Chicago White Sox pitcher is throwing strikes, his changeup-slider combination makes him a lefty who can dominate lineups. But when he is can't find the plate, it is often only a matter of time until the opposition scores runs in bunches.
That inconsistency was part of the reason Liriano was traded from Minnesota to the White Sox at the end of July. But in Saturday's 5-3 victory over the Twins, Liriano (6-11) was tremendous against his former team. Instead of being wild and getting frustrated, Liriano took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and helped the White Sox stay on top of the AL Central.
Considering Liriano had recently been demoted to the bullpen — making him a rare pitcher who made the rotation-to-reliever move for two teams in the same season — this performance came as a huge surprise.
"He just looked like he had a lot of confidence out there, just throwing strikes," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "His stuff moves all over the place. When he has that confidence and pounds the strike zone, he's tough."
Liriano allowed only a two-out homer in the seventh to Trevor Plouffe. He walked two, hit a batter and struck out nine in seven innings.
"He seemed like he was more under control, he wasn't as jumpy, he wasn't as quick," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "It looked like he slowed it down a little bit. He pitched really well. I was happy for him to come back here and do that. He had a great slider and a great changeup."
Liriano, who threw a no-hitter against the White Sox last season, was simply relieved to help Chicago win and stay ahead of Detroit in the AL Central race.
"My last three starts, I didn't feel like I did my job, but you've got to keep fighting," said Liriano, who picked up his third win since the July 28 trade. "Today I felt like I did my job."
Ventura would not commit to having Liriano rejoin the White Sox rotation for the final 17 games of the regular season and starting Thursday at Kansas City, but said that the performance was "a great step for him."
Liriano didn't appear too concerned about what his role is down the stretch.
"It's not a big deal," he said. "We're in a pennant race now, we've got to stay focused and do whatever's best for the team, whether bullpen or starting."
Liriano never got in serious trouble against the Twins. He allowed only two runners through the first six innings. He walked Josh Willingham with two outs in the first inning, but quickly got the next batter, Justin Morneau, to ground out. Liriano walked Drew Butera to lead off the bottom of the sixth and then got Pedro Florimon to ground into a double play.
Liriano's bid for the no-hitter ended with two outs in the seventh. After hitting Morneau with a pitch, Plouffe blasted a high changeup over the wall in left-center on Liriano's 96th pitch of the game.
"I had better location with pitches and I was getting ahead in the count early and they were swinging early," said Liriano who opened this season by losing seven of his first nine starts. "Pitching's all about location, if you get better location, you'll get better results."
The Twins had seen enough flashes of brilliance from Liriano since 2006 that they weren't shocked.
"We've all seen him dominate teams, just dominate them," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But we've also seen where has a hard time finding the strike zone. Anything Frankie does we've seen it one way or another."
Jesse Crain, another former Twins player, pitched a perfect eighth inning for the White Sox.
Closer Addison Reed faced three batters to start the bottom of the ninth, but didn't record an out. With the bases loaded, White Sox manager Robin Ventura then turned to Matt Thornton to finish the game.
Thornton got Morneau to ground into a run-scoring double play and Plouffe to ground out to pick up his third save in seven chances.
Paul Konerko homered in the third inning and drove in the first three runs of the game as the White Sox jumped ahead 4-0. Slugger Adam Dunn returned to the White Sox lineup for the first time since straining a muscle on his right side more than a week ago. Dunn, who missed seven games, went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored a run before being lifted for a pinch-runner in the top of the eighth.
"It felt fine," Dunn said. "I didn't try to swing as hard as I could, it felt good."
Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno (6-4) struggled with his control from the start, throwing only 40 of his 86 pitches for strikes. Deduno, who had been undefeated at Target Field, lasted just four innings, giving up four runs on three hits with five walks and six strikeouts.