We've heard it all before. Ron Gardenhire says he's receiving reports that Francisco Liriano is "throwing the living fire out of the ball" down in the Domincan Winter League, adding that the left-hander's fastball has been clocked at 92-94 MPH and describing his slider as "filthy." Even as one of Liriano's most stubbornly adamant supporters, I've come to roll my eyes at reports like this by now.
Sure, the DWL statistics (21.2 IP, 0.83 ERA, 27/4 K/BB) support the notion that Liriano is throwing well. Yet, we heard similarly strong reports as Liriano initially worked back from Tommy John surgery prior to the 2008 season, and nevertheless the former phenom came out flat that April. Additionally, there were numerous occasions last year where Twins' coaches would rave about how sharp Liriano looked in his bullpen sessions only to see him come out and struggle mightily on game day.
Liriano, it seems, has become the king of the bullpen session and simulated game. The potential for him to transfer that ability onto the field is a big reason I remain in his corner, but after seeing his extreme inconsistency over the past two seasons, it's tough to build up much confidence in spite of the glowing reports from the Dominican league.
Indeed, the Twins hardly seem convinced that Liriano is the answer for the fifth spot in their rotation, as there are reports that the team has made an offer to veteran lefty Jarrod Washburn to fill that role. This seems pretty illogical to me, given the team's stretched budget and the existence of palatable options even if Liriano once again fails to bring his successful results north. For instance, I'd rather settle for Brian Duensing in the fifth spot than spend several million dollars on Washburn while ignoring the team's infield needs; in fact, "settle" might not be the most appropriate word because I'm not at all convinced that Duensing will be an inferior pitcher to the 35-year-old Washburn in 2010.
Of course, the ideal scenario would be for Liriano to return to the Twins with renewed confidence this spring after a strong showing in winter ball and lock up a spot in the rotation. Liriano's biggest issue last year was a lack of fastball command, so I don't really get too hyped up about the reports surrounding improved velocity (and considering his fastball averaged 91.7 MPH last year, it's not like 92 MPHwould be a particularly significant step up). The fact that he's been limiting walks this winter, though, is far more encouraging, and if that's a trend he can bring back to Minnesota with him then there will be plenty of reason for legitimate optimism.
For now, though, I'm going to stick to a wait-and-see approach. I've been burned too many times already.