The Demotion of Liriano
There's no arguing with the numbers. Francisco Liriano's much-trumpeted return to the bigs ended with an unceremonious and ill-timed cymbal clash after he went just 2/3 of an inning and gave up 6 earned to the A's back on 4/24, bringing his 2008 totals to an unseemly 0-3, with an 11.32 ERA in three starts. Two days later, he was sent back to AAA Rochester.
Less than 30 games into this season, I've already devoted great space herein to "The Franchise," having said both that he'd need to win 25 for the club to be truly competitive, and that his return from Tommy John should initially be viewed as an exercise in form, rather than instant result.
And while the show is surely no place to go to school, not a training ground to learn on-the-job, I was somewhat surprised at the alacrity of the hook the Twins exercised, thinking that --despite the overt negativity of his numbers-- Liriano may have (and perhaps should have) been given at least 5 starts before a move was made. Furthermore, I was also surprised that no one in either the Twins ranks, nor within the pages of the Sports dailies, made any contrary reaction. It all felt so very accepted. And what has been reported, somewhat buried behind the blunt force of the crappy stats, is that Liriano could be gone for a lengthy period of time.
Maybe I'm still married to the 2006 image of Liriano in all his greatness and dominance. It's tough not to be. And so, I'll claim that as the onus for the following list of reasons why Liriano should have remained with the club for at least two or three more starts:
1. Alternatives: Neither right-handed relief pitcher Brian Bass (4.67 ERA in 7 appearances), nor recently-recalled Bobby Korecky are impact arms. Bass is a career journeyman who has made for a nice story but has shown that there's a reason why he has all those stickers on his suitcase. Korecky is a well-touted prospect (at age 28), although he's made his name as more of a closer. I think we have a guy there.
2. Youth Without Youth: To borrow the title of Coppola's latest, Liriano is no doubt young at the age of 24, but really not that young. In the A.L. alone, on Active, 25-man rosters, there are currently 19 pitchers who are younger than "The Franchise."
3. History: Liriano has some history with shitty starts. Looking back to 2005, when he started 4 games, going 1-2, giving up 14 runs and 7 walks in 21.2 innings.
4. AAA Track Record: While the 2007-2008 ascension of former Rochester starting hurlers Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Boof Bonser shows promise, there is also a track record of starting arms coming via our AAA-affiliate that were not to be. Here is a brief list of those untoward chestnuts from days of yore:
2003- Mike Nakamura, Adam Johnson
2004- Brad Thomas, J.D. Durbin, Joe Beimel, Carlos Pulido, Seth Greisinger
2005- Travis Bowyer, Dave Gassner
2006- Willie Eyre, Matt Garza
2007- Julio DePaula
5. Thinking Man's Game: Invoking memories of fictional luminary Crash Davis, Gardy recently quoted Liriano as saying that, prior to his injury he "didn't think, I just threw." Let's hope this thing isn't mental. But should this be the (head) case, I've checked with both the Twins and Rochester and have learned that neither club employs a sports psychologist on-staff. Yet, should he still be in the Show, perhaps Liriano could consult Scott Baker's "performance coach," whom he has credited with providing him with "a change of perspective."
6. Timing: While it's far, far too early to count the club out of anything, the fact the it's not yet May means that some rocky starts aren't coming at a pivotal time. When he does come back later in the season, that's when the games will carry more weight.
7. Health: He's not hurt. There has been no mention of pain or discomfort.
Today, the Twins are 11-14, heading into a two-game home series with first place Chicago and all the attitude that comes with this rivalry. Tomorrow, Francisco Liriano is scheduled to go for Rochester against Pawtucket before 4,500 fans. Let's hope that his recall, and his confidence, return with all the celerity of that 2006 slider.