|What's wrong with Francisco Liriano?||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on May 12, 2012
The Minnesota Twins ace lefty has gotten off to the worst start of his career at 0-4 in five starts with a 9.97 ERA. He was even skipped in the rotation in an effort to clear his head.
The rest didn’t exactly work, as Liriano was burned for two home runs in a 4-0 loss Tuesday to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But at least Liriano ended his streak of surrendering at least five earned runs per start. He gave up only four in 5 1/3 innings this time around.
Photo by Alan Turkus, used under creative commons license.
The odd thing about all this is that for a rare time in his career, Liriano is completely healthy and says that he feels great. He missed spurts each of the past few seasons due to injuries, which has affected his performance.
Walks and the long ball have hurt Liriano in the early going. But he said that he was keeping the ball down in his bullpen session Saturday and throwing strikes. He gave up two home runs and walked three in his Tuesday start, so maybe his bullpen session wasn’t as effective as he thought.
The Twins have contemplated using him in the bullpen, but this time around, manager Ron Gardenhire just chose to skip him. It’s not like the Twins are teeming with reliable starters, so Liriano will likely continue to get every chance to succeed or fail.
Liriano claimed that he’s traditionally a slow starter. However, he did admit that he’s making many more mistakes than usual and is working hard to improve.
We’ve all seen what Liriano has the potential to be. He burst onto the scene in 2006 with a 12-3 record, a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in just 122.0 innings.
But after missing the entire 2007 season, Liriano really has been a different pitcher. Frankly, I think it might have something to do with the departure of former teammate Johan Santana to the New York Mets.
The Mets acquired Santana via trade prior to the 2008 season. As just a 22-year-old, Liriano had the luxury of learning from one of the game’s top left-handed pitchers.
However, once Santana was gone, Liriano was automatically looked upon as the ace of the staff, despite the limited sample. Once he got hurt, the pressure increased further to prove that he breakout season was no fluke.
He finished just 6-4 in 2008 and a paltry 5-13 in 2009, missing starts each year due to injury. He bounced back nicely in 2010 at 14-10 with 201 strikeouts, but he reverted last year with a 9-10 mark and a 5.09 ERA.
Maybe Liriano simply can’t handle the pressure of being a staff ace. It’s a tall order for someone who has only experienced limited success at the big-league level.
However, on a staff that includes journeymen Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis and uncertainties Nick Blackburn and Anthony Swarzak, Liriano really needs to be the guiding force.
Whether he can regain his pre-Santana-trade form remains to be seen. But for a team that’s gotten off to a poor start, Liriano needs to first just win a game and then go from there.