Evolution of Liriano continues with win over the Indians
MINNEAPOLIS — There is “pitching” and there is “throwing,” and Francisco Liriano has not had a reputation for pitching his way out of trouble.
As a four-month phenom in 2006, he overpowered difficult situations by throwing a 97 mph fastball and an unhittable slider. As a helpful starter in the 2008 stretch drive, he tried to do the same with lesser versions of those pitches. As a member of the rotation for 4½ months in 2009, he was a mess.
On Wednesday, Liriano pitched his way through four threats in seven innings and was the hometown guy most responsible for a 6-0 victory over Cleveland.
Liriano had to throw a double-play ball after allowing the first two batters to reach in the second. And he struck out dangerous rookie Carlos Santana to strand two runners in the third.
The bases were loaded with one out in the fifth, when Liriano threw a sinker to Jayson Nix for a pitcher-homefirst double play. He worked around a single, a walk and a wild pitch with a pair of strikeouts to end the seventh, and his afternoon.
“I’d give Francisco a ‘B’ for today, and a ‘B’ for the season,” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “When he gets on top (with his delivery) and mixes in those other pitches, he’s been very good. It’s only when he rushes — or gets slider-happy — that he’s gotten himself in trouble.”
Liriano has a good changeup and the best sinker on the Twins’ staff. Yet, he had a long-term tendency to fire full-bore fastballs in the gen- eral direction of the plate, and to lean fully on the slider when in a jam.
Four years ago, it did a hitter no good to sit on Liriano’s slider. It swept away from lefties and dived at a right-hander’s shoetops at 88 mph.
Now, the slider is 3-4 mph less, and you actually see it hang on occasion. He gave up six runs to Detroit on June 28 — his worst start in Target Field — and then lasted only 1 inning at Detroit the Saturday before the All-Star Game.
Anderson liked most of what he saw from Liriano on Wednesday, but the coach’s favorite moment was the first pitch to the right-handed Nix to escape the fifth.
“He got on top and let it go, and the ball went like this,” Anderson said.
He made a sideways and downward gesture with his right hand and said, “There aren’t many sinkers with better action than that.”
It’s four years after surgery and he’s gotten the hint that the fastball isn’t the same, and the slider can be hit, and that important outs can be gotten with a changeup and particularly a sinker.