Liriano To Take On Clemens

Liriano is 6-1 this season.

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Francisco Liriano is all set to face Roger Clemens, Shannon Stewart to start a rehab assignment in Rochester, Carlos Silva looks like he is getting back on the right track, and Ron Gardenhire protects Kyle Lohse. All that and more.

Youth will be served when the Twins face 43-year-old Roger Clemens in the future Hall of Famer's 2006 debut on Thursday. The Twins just hope it's not served on a platter.

Their young team, including 22-year-old starter Francisco Liriano (6-1) face a pitcher who has a lifetime 23-12 record and 3.01 ERA against Minnesota -- although most of them have never faced him.

"I think it'll be pretty cool," catcher Joe Mauer, 23, the major leagues' leading hitter. "I think it'll be real exciting to see a guy you grew up watching. I know how excited I was the first time I faced Randy Johnson."

The Twins hope to play more than bystanders when national media, including ESPN, descend upon Houston to document and scrutinize every move the thrice-retired Clemens makes.

"I don't know what to expect," said rookie outfielder Jason Kubel. "I'm excited." And nervous?

"Pretty much both," he said.

"I went through the same thing when I was young," center fielder Torii Hunter, 30, said. "He's still my favorite pitcher, but I'm not (in awe anymore)."

Besides, Hunter is trying to get some back from the pitcher who has held him hitless in 23 career at-bats, including 13 strikeouts.

"This will be a nice test for (Liriano)," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Maybe it'll be a different result than we've seen in the past. You never know. Torii might get a hit. You never know."

REPLAY:
It was like old times for right-hander Kyle Lohse on Wednesday, even as he worked out of the bullpen. The embattled, embittered veteran took over a 3-3 game with two out and nobody on in the eighth, failed to retire any of the four batters he faced and coughed up the game as the Twins watched their eight-game winning streak end in a 5-3 loss to the Houston Astros.

The suddenly fatigued starter, Carlos Silva, walked the leadoff hitter in the seventh, forcing a quick change, and Juan Rincon replaced him and gave up a tying double before getting out of the inning. After lefty Dennys Reyes retired the first two batters in the eighth, manager Ron Gardenhire went with Lohse to finish it, saying he was trying "not to kill" his bullpen.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • RHP Kyle Lohse pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in Pittsburgh in his appearance immediately before Wednesday's debacle. But he had a poor showing in the one before Pittsburgh, too. "Kyle's last outing was very, very good," manager Ron Gardenhire said of his decision to use him instead of using RHP Jesse Crain a second consecutive night. "He was just a little bit unfortunate tonight." Lohse did not stay to talk to media after Wednesday's loss, which sent his ERA back up to 8.87.

  • RHP Carlos Silva put together his second consecutive solid start Wednesday -- the first time this season he has pitched well in back-to-back starts -- but might have cost himself the victory because he got a hit leading off the top of the seventh. He advanced to second but never scored, and all the standing around on the bases caused him to tap what remained of his energy (despite only 71 pitches to that point). He walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh with a 3-2 lead and left the game.

  • LF Shannon Stewart, on the DL for more than a month because of a torn tendon (plantar fasciitis) in his left foot, is scheduled to start a six-day rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester on Saturday. Stewart, who ran the bases at about 75 percent speed and strength, assumes he'll have to play sore the rest of the year. Because of that, he's expected to return to the lineup primarily as a DH and could bat somewhere in the middle of the order instead of his customary leadoff spot.

  • SS Jason Bartlett has impressed the staff in his first week back in the majors after disappointing the same decision-makers in spring training and opening the season in the minors. He's hitting .440 (11 for 25) in his first seven games back and hasn't made an error. "We've all known he can hit up here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's a matter of having the intensity needed at the shortstop position. He's bringing that to the table right now, and that's what we want."

  • With Wednesday's 5-3 loss, the Twins had their streak of 11 consecutive games with at least four runs scored snapped. It had been their longest such streak since July 2002.
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