One of the major questions facing the Twins coming into Spring Training* is what exactly they can expect from Francisco Liriano. Everybody knows his story, and everybody also knows that part of that story is that every year, around this time, word comes out of the Twins’ offices that Liriano looks great, is throwing the living fire out of the ball, and we should be set at the top of the rotation, so nobody worry!
* It’s just two weeks away now, by the way.
Of course, those prognostications have been totally false in the past; notably, in 2008 Gardy said he had reports of Liriano easily hitting 97-98 MPH on the gun, with a wicked slider that was as good as it was in 2006 … and then he got to camp and was throwing in the high 80s with no command, and was a total mess. So are they changing their tune about Liriano this time around?
It’s funny you should ask, because the answer, of course, is … of course not!
The swell of positivity surrounding the lefty is the result of his successful offseason in the Dominican Republic, where he led his winter league team, the Leones del Escogido, to the Dominican League championship. After a flurry of dominance throughout the postseason — 3-1 with a 0.49 earned-run average in his seven playoff starts — Liriano reached his pinnacle moment in the championship game, striking out 10 and allowing just one hit in five shutout innings.
‘That’s me. That’s how I know to pitch,’ Liriano said of his winter ball results. ‘I feel like in ‘06. I have my focus back; my arm feels great. (I’m) physically and mentally ready to go.’
Liriano reported that his fastball consistently hit 95-96 miles per hour this winter and that he located that pitch as well, something that’s troubled him since his return from surgery. His slider, he said, regained its previously menacing form. Backing up the pitcher’s assertions are his results — over seven postseason starts, Liriano struck out 47 batters in 37 innings.
Alexi Casilla faced Liriano in the Dominican championship series this year while Liriano was dominating everyone; Casilla hit .344 in the series* but struck out 4 times in 8 PAs against Liriano. He confirmed that Liriano’s slider “looks like a different pitch” and is more menacing than ever. For what that’s worth; I imagine that Casilla thinks every major-league-caliber pitcher is about as good as Nolan Ryan. After all, how else would they all make him look so bad out there?
* Some say he would have won the MVP if his team had won; unfortunately they had to face Liriano in the deciding Game 9. Also … I love that they play a best-of-nine series down there. Those guys know how to play baseball.
So is Gardy going to tell us that all is finally right with the world, and we’ve got our ace?
‘All the reports are that he’s really, really throwing the ball well,’ Gardenhire said of his pitcher who was 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA for the Twins in 2009. “This guy is potentially a No. 1 guy, “Gardenhire said. “Everybody’s always looking for a No. 1 guy. I don’t want to put the pressure on and say he’s a No. 1 guy. He’s had No. 1 stuff, and he’s had No. 1 success before. He could be very entertaining.”
Well, I wouldn’t call that saying everything’s going to work out perfectly. I think Gardy did a good job here of not going overboard with a Liriano projection. Apparently, Gardy has learned his lesson from being burned by these reports from the Dominican Republic over the last few years.
But pardon me for not learning my lesson here, because I’m getting excited. I absolutely cannot wait for Spring Training to start so I can see Liriano unleash the ball again. And if he’s back to normal* the Twins will have basically locked up the AL Central before the season starts.
* And by “normal” I mean “superhuman, like in 2006″ … I felt that needed clearing up.
And since this is the internet, I feel I should make a prediction. I think Liriano’s ERA will be under 3, and I think he’ll strike out 200 people this year. Yes, you can call me wildly optimistic.
Anybody else have Liriano predictions they want to share?13 comments