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Liriano's strong day guides Twins

Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera, right, looks to turn a double play after forcing out Kansas City's Alberto Callaspo, left, during the second inning Wedneday in Minneapolis. AP Photo/Paul Battaglia

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- It had been awhile since Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire saw a smile from left-hander Francisco Liriano.

On Wednesday night, Gardenhire got to smile with Liriano, who had one of his best starts of the season as the Twins pulled within four games of AL Central-leading Detroit with a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Liriano (5-11), who last won on June 28 at St. Louis, allowed one run and three hits in seven innings -- both tying season lows. He struck out eight, one shy of his season high.

"I didn't try so hard, didn't try to make perfect pitches," Liriano said. "That's the main thing. I tried not to overthrow."

Joe Crede's three-run homer that capped a five-run first inning helped as well, letting Liriano relax and throw 64.8 percent of his pitches for strikes -- his highest strike percentage since his win against the Cardinals.

Brian Bannister (7-9) was roughed up for a second consecutive start, allowing seven runs and nine hits in six innings. He gave up seven runs in four innings on August 7 against Oakland.

"The last two starts, I haven't been the same guy," Bannister said. "Pitches haven't been crisp and the command hasn't been quality. I'm fighting through it, but my teammates and especially the fans deserve better than what I gave them tonight."

Bannister was spotted a 1-0 lead on Willie Bloomquist's first-inning homer, but Minnesota's offense came to life in the bottom half.

After Bannister retired the first two batters, the Twins rattled off five consecutive hits capped by Crede's blast. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer scored on the home run after hitting RBI singles.

Crede, who had not played since Aug. 6 due to a sore right shoulder, needed two cortisone shots in the joint before returning. He showed no ill effects, hitting his 15th home run in the first and finishing with his first three-hit game of the season and the three RBIs.

"He's well rested," Gardenhire deadpanned. "He said he felt good."

The five runs were the most scored by the Twins in an inning since getting six in the fourth inning of a 10-1 victory at Cleveland on Aug. 5, and were more than Liriano received in any start since his previous win.

Minnesota added two more in the fourth on Denard Span's sacrifice fly and Orlando Cabrera's run-scoring double. Cabrera's two-base hit extended his hitting streak to a career-high 21 games, including all 10 of his games since coming to the Twins from Oakland.

The six-run lead was more than enough to help Liriano forget about an 0-3 record in his last five starts and an 8.71 ERA in his last two outings. He retired 12 consecutive hitters after Bloomquist's homer, the most since he set down 13 straight against Detroit on July 4.

"I could count on one hand how many times he fell off the mound because he overthrew," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "Once he has success with (relaxing), hopefully it is something he'll lock in and maintain."

Minnesota needed the strong effort from its starter a night after Nick Blackburn lasted just 1 2-3 innings.

The Twins' ERA since the All-Star break was a dismal 6.23 entering Wednesday, a day after a 14-6 loss to Kansas City.

"He was good and was good especially with the downward spiral he's been on this season," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "He had good velocity and real good deception."

Liriano chalked it up simply to staying relaxed on the mound, which Anderson and Gardenhire have been preaching all season. Even catcher Joe Mauer has gotten in on the act, but not Wednesday.

"He didn't come out once to tell me to calm down," Liriano said. "It was a good night."

Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan both pitched an inning of scoreless relief to complete the four-hitter that ended Minnesota's three-game home losing streak.

E Twins LHP Glen Perkins said team doctors were still looking at his second MRI on his left shoulder. Perkins said he has a rotator cuff strain and "many little things adding up to one big thing." He will rest for the next few days before the team decides a course of action.

- Crede's last game with more than two hits was a four-hit outing on June 6, 2008, against Minnesota while with the Chicago White Sox.

- Hillman said a roster move will be made Thursday morning to activate RHP Gil Meche (4-9) in time to start the series finale. He has been on the DL since July 18 (retroactive to July 12) with a left lower back strain.