As most of you are aware by now, Francisco Liriano lit up the Dominican Winter League this offseason.
Winter league or not, it was an encouraging sign for the Minnesota Twins organization, which watched the young left-hander labor through a trying 2009 season. He finished the year with a 5-13 record, a 5.80 ERA, and eventually a demotion to the bullpen.
Hoping to right the ship, Liriano went to the Dominican and proceeded to dominate. He finished the regular season and postseason with an ERA of 0.74 in 48 2/3 innings, striking out 64 and, more importantly, walking just 7.
He tossed five shutout innings while striking out 10 as Escogido won the championship Thursday, a game which was available on ESPN360.com. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said his stuff has been filthy, but he said the same thing last year and look how that went.
But this time, there was video evidence, and those who watched were very impressed.
Granted, facing the Gigantes isn’t like facing the New York Yankees, but the top of Gigantes’ order was all major leaguers. And batting in the No. 3 spot was Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who participated in last year’s Home Run Derby. He’s no slouch.
The important thing in all of this was command. Well, and confidence, too. Liriano insists his confidence is back.
When you look at the pitch tracking provided by FanGraphs, there’s no doubt he’s lost a few miles per hour on his fastball. But his slider and change-up are pretty much the same that they were prior to Tommy John surgery. It’s all about location and setting up the batter. He has to command that fastball. He fell behind into hitter’s counts way too many times last year.
It’s cliche to say that Liriano won’t be the same as he was prior to the surgery. Few, if any, ever are. And nothing will be handed to him this spring. It’s believed lefty Brian Duensing, who pitched very well for the Twins down the stretch, is in the driver’s seat for the fifth spot in the rotation.
But if Liriano can be what he was in 2008 – when after a return from the minor leagues he made 11 starts with a 6-1 record and a 2.74 ERA with a 60/19 K-to-BB ratio in 65-plus innings – he should have little trouble supplanting Duensing.
Even after the arm surgery, Liriano still stands above all others on this pitching staff when it comes to pure stuff. He has to find a way to control it again.