Evo­lu­tion of Liri­ano con­tin­ues with win over the In­di­ans

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

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.

Fran­cisco Liri­ano

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