Twins lose 7-1 to Rays; likely to start veteran Hernandez on opening day

Hernandez already has seven opening-day starts under his belt.

>FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) – The Minnesota Twins want Livan Hernandez ready for opening day. They’re not concerned with his spring training results.

Hernandez gave up three hits, two runs and one walk in four innings for the Twins in a 7-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Before the game, manager Ron Gardenhire said he’s leaning toward tabbing the only veteran in his young rotation to start the regular-season opener.

“He’s the type of guy who can do it,” Gardenhire said. “Look at how many opening-day starts he has. Opening day can be pressure. We don’t want to put too much pressure on our young guys.”

Hernandez has taken the ball to start his team’s season seven times in the previous 10 years. After signing a one-year contract with the Twins to stabilize a group of inexperienced starters, Hernandez is the sensible choice to take the mound on March 31 at the Metrodome against the Los Angeles Angels.

“It’s an honor,” Hernandez said. “It’s something that’s exciting for my family. I love to be a competitor. I love to face good pitchers. In the National League, I had to face everybody.”

Hernandez struck out one batter in his third spring start and lowered his ERA to 8.00. He has given up 15 hits in nine innings.

“He was fine,” Gardenhire said. “It was about him getting his work in. He’s just trying to get his arm in shape.”

The Rays also threw a strong candidate to be their opening-day starter, James Shields, who earned the win with five shutout innings. He gave up four hits and walked one and said he felt “right where he wanted to be.”

Because left-hander Scott Kazmir, who is scheduled to start on Sunday, has been out with a strained elbow, manager Joe Maddon said Shields is in the mix for that honor.

“He is ready. He is so ready,” Maddon said. “He is not one to settle for second best. He’s an exceptional-makeup guy. That’s why he’s as good as he is.”

The 26-year-old Shields went 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 215 innings last season.

“I’ll take that role if they want to give it to me,” Shields said. “I’m ready to do any job. I’m glad that they’re thinking of me that way. I hope that they’re thinking of me that way. If they want to throw me in that situation, I’m all for it.”