Liriano left something behind in Fort Myers

Francisco Liriano’s start to the season has been a familiar one. And that’s exactly what Twins fans were hoping not to see.

Due to be a free agent after the season, Liriano teased many baseball experts with a dominant spring training. In seven starts in Florida, the southpaw had a 2.33 ERA, posting a 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings.

Fast forward to the third inning Tuesday night in the Bronx, as Liriano leaves the mound during the third inning. His regular-season stats to date: 3 starts, 11.91 ERA, 11 1/3 IP, 8 Ks, 9 BBs, OBA .407.

Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano. Associated Press photo

So what happened?

For myself, it wasn’t so much Liriano’s spring stats that had me believing that he could have a huge year this season. It was the way in which he was pitching.

A couple of his spring starts were on TV, either on Fox Sports North or MLB Network. And I was impressed with his propensity to throw first- and second-pitch strikes. He was constantly ahead in the count. I remember in one of his last spring starts, Liriano threw like 80 percent of all of his pitches in that start for strikes.

A closer look at his regular-season numbers shows that he is falling behind hitters now at a greater pace than he ever has. According to FanGraphs, his first-pitch strike percentage is just 42.9. That’s WAY too low for a major league pitcher. And it’s not hard to tell looking at Liriano’s numbers in that category that his success is tied to that number. In his dominant year of 2006, he threw 61 percent of first pitches for strikes. In his bounce-back year of 2010, that number was at 62 percent.

His swinging strike percentage is also way down, at just 9.5 percent. His career high in that number was 18.7 percent as a rookie. In 2010, he led the majors at 12.4 percent. Of course, it’s much more difficult to get swinging strikes when a starter falls behind in counts and is forced to throw fastballs.

So it’s not just the production that’s changed for Liriano since the Twins left spring training. Something about his make-up seems to be missing in the regular season, and he’d better find it soon if he wants to cash in when the offseason arrives.

RADIO PLUG

I will be joining host Dom Izzo on Dizzo’s Den from 6:30 to 7 p.m. tonight on 970-AM WDAY and www.wday.com. We’ll be talking Twins and everything Major League Baseball. Tune in!