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MIN@TEX: Liriano strikes out six Rangers in win

The Oakland A's were in a state of disarray the last time they faced Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins.

Liriano -- who will start against Oakland on Friday -- threw six shutout innings against the A's on May 30, helping to close out a three-game sweep for the Twins. The loss was Oakland's eighth in a season-worst nine-game losing streak.

But since dropping those three games in Minneapolis, the A's are 21-14, putting themselves in much better position (43-43 overall) than they were at the break last year (39-53).

Manager Bob Melvin said he's looking for improvement "everywhere" in the second half of the season, citing the woeful nine-game slump as a learning experience.

"It's been a bit of a tumultuous first half," Melvin said. "We got through a nine-game losing streak and we're better for that at the end of that.

"We played a lot of dramatic games, whether it's walk-off wins or losses. We've had a lot of turnover in and out as a team. We're settling on a group in the second half and starting to get a little bit of an identity."

That May 30 game also provided an end to Liriano's own personal struggles on the mound. The left-hander was sent to the bullpen after struggling to a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts this season. But in eight starts since rejoining the rotation for that contest against Oakland, Liriano owns a 2.74 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire believes Liriano may have been too tense mentally.

"I hate to say this but sometimes our brain screws up a lot of things," Gardenhire said. "Rather than just go out and use our God-given ability and winging the baseball up there and letting them try to hit it, we start overthinking situations. I think Frankie's more relaxed now. I think he's not pressing. I think he's learned to take a step back and relax and make a pitch when he has to."

Drew Butera has caught all eight of those starts, seemingly providing a calming influence for Liriano. Butera lauded Liriano's improved consistency.

"We all know he has the stuff," he said of Liriano. "He has swing-and-miss stuff. He has No. 1 stuff. So for him, it's about staying within himself and staying consistent. Just throwing strike one and not trying to do too much."

A's: Griffin gets the start
• Rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin will get the ball for Oakland. Though he's pitched well in three starts with a 1.50 ERA, he is still seeking his first win. He was tagged with no-decisions in all three outings. Griffin gave up one earned run in six innings in the A's 3-2 series-sweep-clinching win over the Red Sox on July 4.

"Got to be happy with it," Griffin said. "Just took a big series from the Red Sox. It was fun."

• Despite being rookies, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker have been among the most consistent members of Oakland's starting rotation for the first half of the season. Milone enters the break with an 8-6 record and 3.57 ERA, while Parker is 5-4 with a 2.86 mark.

"Based on what you saw in Spring Training and where they are right now, absolutely you've got to be happy with both those guys," Melvin said.

• Because the A's won't have a chance to meet in Oakland before the series begins, the squad will hold an extra workout in Minnesota.

Twins: The climb back to .500
• An unstable starting rotation has been the biggest ailment in the Twins' subpar first half, which ended with 36-49 record. Though Minnesota has seen better outings from its pitchers of late, Gardenhire emphasized the need for more consistency.

The 12th-year skipper also knows the Twins will need to go on a big run to put themselves back in contention in the second half.

"The bottom line is that we are 12 games under," Gardenhire said. "That's a fight to get back to .500. You win two out of three and you still only gain one game towards .500. So there is going to have to be one kind of big streak here to get us within striking distance of .500, then you have to run the other guys down."

• Twins reliever Matt Capps will be reinstated from the disabled list Friday, and will return as the team's closer. To make room for Capps on the 25-man roster, the club optioned right-hander Kyle Waldrop to Triple-A Rochester on Thursday.

Capps has been on the DL since June 25 with right shoulder inflammation.

In two rehab appearances -- and one start -- with Class A Fort Myers, he went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA over two innings of work. Capps allowed one unearned run off just one hit, and notched one strikeout with Fort Myers.

Capps had converted all but one of his 15 save opportunities this season, while posting a 3.42 ERA in 27 games prior to landing on the disabled list.

• Nick Blackburn threw eight shutout innings in his first start with Triple-A Rochester on Sunday, allowing nine hits. The right-hander recorded an 8.10 ERA in 13 starts with the Twins before being sent down on July 4.

"He chewed them up," Gardenhire said. "We need to see Blackie do that again and locate the ball. The big difference with Blackie is he's done it here. We know he can do it. It's about him getting confidence."

• Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham both enter the All-Star break with 19 home runs. This marks the third time in history two Twins have had 19 or more homers before the break. Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter were the last tandem to do so in 2007, while Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison accomplished the feat in 1964.

Worth noting
• Morneau is hitting .320 (71-for-222) in 61 games against Oakland with 15 home runs.

• Oakland has lost five of its last six games at Target Field against the Twins.

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