July 27, 2015

Francisco Liriano and Ervin Santana have enjoyed strong stretches in the past, but rounding into the twilight of their respective careers, they look as good as ever.

The Pittsburgh Pirates visit the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in a matchup of Dominican hurlers that have been impressive of late.

Liriano (6-6, 2.91 ERA) was an All-Star with Minnesota in 2006, but posted an ERA of 5.09 or higher in three of in his final four seasons with the club before finding his way to Pittsburgh prior to 2013. Santana (2-0, 2.60) has won 16-plus three times, and earned an All-Star nod in 2008 with the Los Angeles Angels. Both have been hard to hit lately.

Liriano lowered his ERA to 1.95 over his last five starts in a 7-3 win over Washington on Thursday, striking out 11 while yielding one run and three hits over six-plus innings. It was an encouraging sign after he had been scratched from his scheduled start the previous weekend due to neck stiffness.

The left-hander's 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings are his most since a 10.7 mark in 2006, his second pro season. He's likely to become the first Pirate to post an ERA of 3.38 or lower while throwing at least 100 innings in three straight seasons since Doug Drabek from 1988-92.

He'll be hoping this matchup with his former club goes better than the one two months ago, though. Liriano surrendered a season-high seven runs and five hits - including two homers - over two innings of an 8-5 loss May 19, prompting boos from the home fans.

"Against a guy like Frankie, who we know and have seen be effective, jumping out early was big for us," Minnesota third baseman Trevor Plouffe told MLB's official website.

Plouffe is 3 for 5 with two homers and a double off Liriano, and that line of thinking likely still holds true. Liriano owns a 3.38 ERA in innings 1-3 compared to a 2.51 mark in the fourth inning and onward.

Santana has almost immediately cemented himself as Minnesota's ace upon returning from an 80-game suspension for violating MLB's drug program.

He dominated his former team Thursday, limiting the Angels to four hits with seven strikeouts over eight innings in a 3-0 road victory. Outside of a rough start against Detroit on July 10 when he gave up six runs in four innings, Santana has allowed two runs over 23 2-3 innings in three other outings.

"He has been able to turn the page," manager Paul Molitor said.

He won his only previous start against Pittsburgh despite allowing three runs - all on solo homers - over 5 1-3 innings on Aug. 18 with Atlanta.

Jung Ho Kang homered in the ninth to push Pittsburgh (58-41) to an 8-7 victory Tuesday, its fourth in five games. He's batting .393 with nine extra-base hits in his last 17 games. He had 13 in his previous 66 contests.

The Twins (52-47) have boasted a strong back end of the bullpen for most of the season, but closer Glen Perkins faltered again, yielding Kang's decisive home run. He has allowed six runs in 3 2-3 innings and blown two saves in four appearances since the All-Star game.

"How many games did I throw in the first half, 40? And I think I threw well in like 38 or 39 of them," he said. "Bad games are going to happen. I've been saying that all year long."

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