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Liriano goes from last to first in AL Central

By La Velle E. Neal III, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Francisco Liriano arrived at Target Field early Monday afternoon like he usually does — to start an unusual day.

First, he cleaned out his clubhouse stall and moved to the other side of the ballpark. He put on White Sox black instead of Twins blue. He sat in the visitors’ dugout and talked about facing the Twins, not winning for them.

(PHOTO: Francisco Liriano of the Chicago White Sox walked through the dugout before the team’s game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Monday, July 30, 2012. )

It was an odd scene Monday as he met with reporters to talk about the Saturday night trade that sent him to Chicago for two players — and puts him on the mound Tuesday to face his former team.

“I didn’t expect to be traded the day before a start,” he said. “Getting traded to the same division was weird too. Some things happen and … it feels weird, but things happen.”

Liriano was traded to a division rival; he has to face his old team in his first start; and his batterymate, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, was the player the Twins sent to San Francisco in 2003 in exchange for him, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser.

Thanks to the first trade between the teams since 1986 (remember Pete Filson for Juan Agosto and Kurt Walker?) Liriano jumps from fourth to first place in the American League Central Division.

What a stage to try to impress the new bosses.

“I haven’t thought about it yet,” Liriano said about facing the Twins. “I don’t want to get too excited too nervous. I just want to do my job and help the team win some ballgames.”

In 15 career games (11 starts), Liriano was 5-4 with a 4.99 ERA against the White Sox. They have faced him at his best, like the no-hitter he tossed at them May 3, 2011, and at his worst, when he failed to get out of the third inning July 23 in Chicago, giving up seven earned runs on three homers.

Chicago players eagerly welcomed Liriano into their clubhouse Monday. He already knows former Twins teammates Jesse Crain, Philip Humber and Orlando Hudson, and he is friends with Alexei Ramirez.

Chicago has used 11 rookies this season, including nine pitchers. The White Sox also wanted to give lefthander Chris Sale — who is 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA — a break. Sale was scheduled to start Wednesday, but manager Robin Ventura said Monday that the 23-year-old All-Star might not start for another four or five days.

And the White Sox hope Liriano will thrive in a playoff race.

“When you come to new team, a team that is playing well, that just boosts you,” Crain said. “No matter how well or how bad you are doing, it makes you want to do good. We all know what great stuff he has.”

The first time through the order figures to be awkward for both sides. The Twins already have talked about how odd it will be to plan for facing Liriano. He said Monday that he will have to go over Chicago’s reports on Twins hitters.

“I’ve stood in on some bullpens on him and faced him in some live batting practices in spring training and all that kind of stuff, so it’s going to be interesting to see what our game plan is,” Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. “But hopefully we get the better end of the deal and we can go out there and win a ballgame.

“… It’s easy to say that it’s just another game, but obviously it’s going to mean a lot to him, it’s going to mean a lot to us.”

It’s also just the type of development that makes a once-competitive rivalry more interesting.

“If he gets by tomorrow night, then the rest will probably be the easiest,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “He’s pitching against his old team that he was on two days ago. Get that up and out of the way and it will be easier.”

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