<
>

Twins hope Liriano can heal in Florida without surgery

MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano is off to Florida, and the
Minnesota Twins are hoping his left elbow will heal there during
the offseason.

The Twins will send Liriano to their spring training and minor
league facility in Fort Myers on Tuesday to start a therapy and
rehabilitation program, general manager Terry Ryan said. Liriano
will be supervised by Lanning Tucker, the team's rehab coordinator.

"We're going to put him down there and see how things go, and
hopefully before he leaves there he'll be throwing off a mound,"
Ryan said.

A stellar season by the left-hander was halted when
Liriano, who turns 23 later this month, went on the disabled list
in early August. After a month of treatment, Liriano returned --
only to leave again with pain after 28 pitches in a start against
Oakland on Sept. 13. He finished 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA.

Liriano had an MRI test and meetings with several medical
specialists, all confirming that he has no structural damage. The
Twins have been mystified, however, about what has caused the
soreness in his elbow. The injury has officially been listed as a
mild strain of the ulnar collateral ligament.

For now, Liriano doesn't need surgery, but that could change if
he doesn't show improvement this winter. Though the unanimous goal
is to get him ready by next February for the start of spring
training, there is no guarantee.

This week, the team's thoughts are suddenly turned to the
offseason, after being swept out of the first round of the playoffs
by the A's.

Ryan's first decisions surround contract options for 2007 on
center fielder Torii Hunter ($12 million with a $2 million buyout)
and starting pitcher Carlos Silva ($4.325 million with a $100,000
buyout).

There are also potentially eight players up for salary
arbitration and big raises, including batting champ Joe Mauer, MVP
candidate Justin Morneau and cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer.

The Twins made some minor moves Monday, removing left-handers
Dave Gassner and Justin Jones and corner infielder Terry Tiffee
from the 40-man roster -- making them eligible to sign with other
teams.

Gassner, 27, spent most of the year on the disabled list with an
elbow strain and did not pitch in the majors. Jones, 22, started
with Class A Fort Myers and moved up to Double-A New Britain.

Tiffee, 27, split the season between Triple-A Rochester and
Minnesota, batting .244 with two homers and six RBI in 45 at-bats
for the Twins.

The team also reinstated outfielder Shannon Stewart from the
60-day disabled list, but the veteran will be a free agent and is
not expected to return.