TWINS: Liriano shows side team desires with five no-hit innings
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are days like Sunday when Francisco Liriano shows the Twins the kind of stuff that suggests he can be their ace. He hasn't had enough of those days, which is why he's entering the 2012 season as something of a baseball a...
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are days like Sunday when Francisco Liriano shows the Twins the kind of stuff that suggests he can be their ace. He hasn't had enough of those days, which is why he's entering the 2012 season as something of a baseball anomaly: a 28-year-old left-hander with a good fastball, a wipeout slider and an employer who seems more likely to trade him or let him leave in free agency next winter than to offer him a long-term deal.
Liriano has a season -- possibly only a few months -- in a Twins uniform to change that. The way he has pitched for most of the spring has the Twins hoping he might be able to do it.
Aside from one bad inning against the Toronto Blue Jays last Tuesday, Liriano has been impressive all spring. He might have been at his best Sunday, pitching five no-hit innings and striking out six batters against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has given up just four runs, all against Toronto, and has struck out 12 batters in eight innings.
"(I'm) limiting walks, trying to go deeper in games, throw less pitches per batter and trying to throw first-pitch pitches for strikes," he said. "I hope they swing early like they were today. And I'm locating my fastball better than last year, too."
The left-hander pitched five innings for the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series this past winter, and also threw for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The Twins didn't allow him to pitch the winter before the 2011 season, his worst year in the majors.
Liriano is looking strong again this spring, and he thinks there could be a correlation between winter ball and his good start; he won 14 games in 2010 after pitching through the winter.
"Yeah, that helped me a lot. Going home and not pitching for like six months is not good at all for me," he said. "So I go home and pitch winter ball, that helped me a lot. Get my mechanics back and work on the things I need to work on."
It also helped that Liriano was back to a smoother, slower delivery on the mound than he had against Toronto last week. Catcher Joe Mauer called for enough changeups to keep Liriano from rushing through his delivery, and the result was a surprisingly effortless day; he needed just 62 pitches to get through five innings, despite striking out six batters.
The problem with Liriano, though, always has been consistency. He's alternately capable of stunning highs (a 2.16 earned-run average his rookie year, a no-hitter last season, a 1.96 ERA in nine victories last year) and baffling lows (a .968 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against him in his 10 losses in 2012). He showed that again last week against Toronto, when he blamed his struggles on a rushed delivery -- a familiar problem for him.
Asked Tuesday how much the Twins have talked with Liriano about his mechanics, manager Ron Gardenhire quipped, "How much time do you have?"
The Twins would like to see him rely less on his slider and throw it more effectively when he gets ahead in counts. He couldn't throw an 0-2 slider down in the strike zone Tuesday, and the Blue Jays' Travis Snider ripped one for a double.
Liriano threw the pitch 28.9 percent of the time last season and has thrown it an average of 31.1 percent of the time in his career. If he builds his repertoire on fastballs and changeups, pitching coach Rick Anderson said, Liriano's slider can be even more devastating.
"When he was in trouble a lot last year, it was slider, ball, slider, slider," Anderson said. "Then all of the sudden it's 3-2, and they're sitting (on a) slider. If you can make that as an out pitch and use it at times to get in counts, it's much more effective, as you can see in the spring."
Added third-base coach Scott Ullger: "He threw some nasty sliders today. Hitters couldn't tell it was a slider the way they were swinging at it."
By now, Liriano's potential, and his pitfalls, are well known to everyone in the Twins' organization. It's why his future with them is still a mystery. But a month into the spring, he's looked more often than not like he has the answers to his problems.
Distributed by MCT Information Services