Rumors continue to swirl around Twins ace Francisco Liriano and the Yankees

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Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune got the Francisco Liriano rumor mill rolling two weeks ago by reporting that the Twins aren’t interested in signing the 27-year-old left-hander to a long-term contract extension and are open to the possibility of trading him before he becomes a free agent following the 2012 season.

I speculated that the Twins were undervaluing Liriano by focusing on his win-loss record and ERA rather than taking a deeper look at his exceptional secondary numbers. He’s the “ace” they want.

Shortly after that Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson publicly criticized Liriano’s lack of offseason conditioning and manager Ron Gardenhire chose Carl Pavano, not Liriano, as the Opening Day starter, throwing a little more gas on the Liriano fire.

Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony downplayed the situation last week, but stopped well short of putting it completely to rest by saying, among other things: “We’re not talking to anybody right now on Francisco Liriano.” Right now, of course, being the phrasing of note.

Well, now the reports linking Liriano to the Yankees are starting to roll in. Bob Nightengale of USA Today, who has broken Twins news several times in the past, wrote that the Yankees “are keeping a close eye” on Liriano “while the Twins are keeping tabs on Yankees prospects” and then yesterday Nightengale said on Jim Bowden’s radio show that “it’s possible” Liriano is traded to the Yankees for a package headlined by Joba Chamberlain or Ivan Nova before the season begins.

Building off that, Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com reported yesterday that “the Yankees called the Twins this offseason about the availability of Liriano” but “as of right now Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said there are no talks with the Twins.”

Twins fans understandably aren’t happy about talk of trading Liriano, particularly now that the Yankees are rumored to be interested, but it seems awfully hard to believe that all this speculation–from Christensen’s initial report and the Twins’ general attitude toward Liriano to Antony’s non-denial denial and Nightengale’s follow-up–is somehow being invented out of whole cloth. As a Twins fan I hope I’m wrong.

Video: Gift Ngoepe singles in his first major league at-bat

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Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, singled in his first major league at-bat on Wednesday evening against Cubs starter Jon Lester. It was a well-struck ground ball up the middle in the bottom of the fourth inning. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates could not bring him around to score.

Ngoepe, who was pinch-hitting, stayed in the game to play second base.

Shelby Miller getting third opinion on elbow from Dr. James Andrews

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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Monday due to inflammation in his right elbow. He had a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday and is currently awaiting a third opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports reports. That he’s getting a third opinion seems to imply that Miller’s elbow issue is rather serious.

Miller, 26, hasn’t been able to catch a break since joining the Diamondbacks. Last year’s nightmarish season included a finger injury stemming from mechanical woes and a brief demotion to the minor leagues. In 20 starts in the majors last year, Miller posted an ugly 6.15 ERA. This year, his ERA is a mediocre 4.09 over four starts.

The Diamondbacks called up Zack Godley to take Miller’s spot in the rotation. There was some speculation that it would be Archie Bradley instead, but he’s been working out of the bullpen.