Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Return of the Franchise

When Francisco Liriano joined the Twins earlier this season and went 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA and 7-to-13 strikeout to walk ratio over three starts, it seemed evident that he had a long ways to go before he'd be an effective major-league pitcher again. I felt that we wouldn't be seeing him in a Twins uniform until at least after the All-Star break, if not 2009.

Much to my surprise and delight, Liriano made very quick strides upon his return to Class-AAA Rochester. After an ugly first start back with the Red Wings (4.1 IP, 4 ER, 5 BB), Liriano started to make demonstrable adjustments. In nine starts since then, he has pitched 6+ innings eight times, allowed three or fewer runs eight times and issued two or fewer walks seven times. He's throwing more strikes and pitching deep into ballgames. Over his past four starts, he has gone 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA and 26-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 25 2/3 innings. Considering how far away he looked back in April, there's no way I could have anticipated that Liriano would be pitching so well so soon, even if it is just at the Triple-A level. Reports indicate that he has added a few ticks to his velocity and that he's harnessed his fastball, which he struggled mightily to command during his stint with the Twins.

Despite his success, the Twins would probably like to be patient with Liriano. However, just as was the case back in April, circumstances may force the team to move ahead of its desired schedule with the left-hander. Livan Hernandez's performance has spiraled as of late, and with the number of hits and runs he is giving up each time out, it doesn't seem like Ron Gardenhire will be able to continue trotting him out there every fifth day without the players and fans revolting. Even if Gardy elects to keep sticking with Hernandez, it was recently revealed that Nick Blackburn is going to miss his next scheduled start due to muscle soreness in his throwing elbow. The Twins have stated that Blackburn is still on pace to start on Saturday, but these things tend to linger and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Blackburn end up on the disabled list. If that happens and the Twins need another pitcher, it's somewhat difficult to justify calling on anyone other than Liriano.

While Liriano is basically assured to have more success in his next shot with the Twins than he did last time, it's still probably best to keep expectations low. His devastating slider was the main ingredient for his success back in 2006, and by all accounts that pitch is still nowhere near where it was prior to surgery. In all likelihood, it will probably never get back to that point. But Liriano is a good, smart pitcher who can have success if he locates and mixes his pitches, even if those pitches aren't as nasty as they once were. The fact that he's started missing bats down in Rochester is certainly an encouraging sign.

It seems inevitable that Liriano will be getting another shot in a Twins uniform. How soon? At this point, that may be dictated by factors other than his arm.

7 comments:

TT said...

Hernandez has had a stretch of 5 games where he has struggled mightily. I would not make too much of that. The Twins record with him on the mound is pretty good. In fact, they are 2-3 even during that terrible stretch.

Yeh, if he only goes 3 innings at a time they will have to replace him. How likely is that?

My guess is that Liriano will be in the major leagues the minute the Twins think he is ready, and not a minute before. I wouldn't call him up until he has his slider working. That will probably be the indication that he no longer has any lingering doubts about his arm.

Anonymous said...

why do you think that Liriano is a smart pitcher? He was amazing a couple of years ago, but a smart pitcher? I don't see any evidence of that yet (I'm not saying anything about him as a human being - he may be brilliant in life, but not on the mound).

Nick N. said...

Hernandez has had a stretch of 5 games where he has struggled mightily. I would not make too much of that. The Twins record with him on the mound is pretty good. In fact, they are 2-3 even during that terrible stretch.

As I wrote yesterday, I have a hard time viewing this as some isolated rough patch for Hernandez. You can't get by giving up two hits per inning -- it just doesn't work. I have a hard time drawing a distinction between what Hernandez is doing right now and what Ramon Ortiz did last year to get bumped from the rotation.

why do you think that Liriano is a smart pitcher? He was amazing a couple of years ago, but a smart pitcher?

My opinion is that, even when blessed with great ability, you can't have the type of success that he was having without really knowing how to pitch. My respect for his pitching intelligence is reinforced by how quickly he seems to have made adjustments down in Triple-A after his implosion with the Twins... like I said, I figure it would take him quite a while to get things turned around down there.

MVB said...

I wrote a post today about Adrian Beltre. With the imminent firesale in Seattle, I think Beltre would be a great fit for the Twins. I know we'd have to eat his terrible contract, but he could be a difference maker.

You should check it out and let me know your opinion. Keep up the great bloggin.

Anonymous said...

MVB??? This was an article about Liriano, nothing about the underachieving Beltre. He's just horrible. Notice how his stats have plummetted since all the roid scandels...Coincidence? I don't think so.

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