Last week, after Francisco Liriano made an unimpressive start for Class-AAA Rochester, I guessed that "the underwhelming outing ... likely eliminates any chance that he will be starting for the Twins this weekend, and that's not necessarily a bad thing." Clearly I was wrong, as the Twins decided to call up Liriano to start yesterday in place of Kevin Slowey, who was placed on the disabled list. I was skeptical of the decision, but still watched eagerly as the man they call "Franchise" made his 2008 Twins debut.
As expected, Liriano's first major-league outing since September of 2006 was a rocky one. Over 4 2/3 innings, he allowed four earned runs on six hits and five walks. He was a far cry from his dominant form of 2006, with his fastball velocity sitting in the upper-80s and his hard slider nowhere to be found. He struggled mightily with his command, throwing just 51 of 90 pitches for strikes while frequently crossing up catcher Mike Redmond. The cold weather might have played some part in Liriano's struggles, but I think the reality here is that the left-hander still has a long road ahead of him.
I'm not terribly discouraged by Liriano's start; he did record four strikeouts and at times seemed to be in control of the Royals hitters. Yet, it seems clear that he is not quite prepared to be taking on major-league batters at this point, which was my suspicion even before he was called up.
Fortunately, Liriano's poor outing yesterday wasn't really a big deal, as it wasn't a game the Twins were going to win anyway. Brian Bannister was absolutely dazzling, holding the Twins' lineup to one unearned run on three hits while going all nine innings for the complete game victory. Bannister is now 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and .143 BAA. As a result of the punchless effort, the Twins fell 5-1 and, for a second straight weekend, whiffed on a chance at sweeping Kansas City.
Tonight the Twins open a two-game set against the miserable Detroit Tigers, who are 2-10 after suffering an 11-0 blowout loss to the White Sox yesterday. Prior to the season, many pundits proclaimed that the Tigers could boast one of the great offenses in league history; to this point they have been disastrously disappointing. They have averaged 2.75 runs per game this season (the Twins have averaged 3.58), and they were shut out on both Saturday and Sunday while managing a total of eight hits.
While some might view it as a positive to be facing a team that is as down as the Tigers are, I'm a little scared. There are way too many talented hitters in this lineup for this team to continue at this rate for much longer, and it seems like they're due for some regression toward the mean. Let's just hope they've got a couple more feeble efforts left in them against Nick Blackburn tonight and Scott Baker tomorrow.