Pirates starting pitcher Liriano emerges as pleasant surprise
The rain fell, and Francisco Liriano waited.
And waited. And waited.
The left-hander watched YouTube videos and passed the time with his teammates as a thunderstorm and heavy rains passed through Western Pennsylvania on July 10, delaying his 12th and final start before the All-Star break by three hours. Liriano finally took the mound at 10 p.m., and despite the prolonged downtime and interruption to routine, he delivered a superb performance in a win over the Oakland Athletics.
Liriano pitched seven scoreless innings, walked one and struck out six to help the Pirates snap a four-game losing streak. The start before, Liriano pitched the Pirates' first complete game of the season. He's 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA in 762⁄3 innings with a 1.187 WHIP. The left-hander has eight fewer starts but just three fewer victories than NL wins leader Adam Wainwright, and Liriano's .750 winning percentage is tied for fourth-best in the league.
“I'm pretty happy with the way I've been pitching and the way we've all been playing,” said Liriano, 29, who signed with the Pirates as a free agent Feb. 8. “We're in a good position right now to make the playoffs, so I just want to continue to play like that in the second half, and hopefully, we can be in the postseason.”
Much like A.J. Burnett the year before, Liriano is enjoying a comeback season after a couple of tough years in the American League. Unlike Burnett, this is Liriano's first stint in the NL after spending the majority of his career with the Minnesota Twins.
He was an All-Star in 2006, his rookie year, but after Tommy John surgery and a missed season in 2007, Liriano won just 11 games in 38 starts between 2008 and 2009. In 2010, he set career highs in wins (14), starts (31), innings pitched (1912⁄3) and strikeouts (201) and was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
But Liriano's struggles returned. He was moved to the bullpen in May 2012 after starting the season 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA. He was back into the rotation by the end of the month then was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline. But by September they, too, had moved him to the bullpen to deal with struggles that included allowing 10 runs and 15 walks in 14 innings over three starts.
General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates' scouts saw in Liriano a pitcher who still had good stuff but inconsistent command.
“Metrically, we saw a guy that was still getting strikeouts, that still put the ball on the ground enough that we felt a change of scenery and a change of league (could help),” Huntington said. “We saw a lot of similarities with A.J. (Burnett), and I said that the day we signed Francisco, so I'm not jumping on the bandwagon now that he's done so well. But we saw some similarities.”
Liriano originally signed Dec. 21, but the deal hit a snag after he broke his right arm around Christmas. He then signed an incentive-laden contract worth up to $13.75 million plus award bonuses over two seasons.
Pitching coach Ray Searage said they didn't tweak much mechanically when Liriano recovered, a minor adjustment to get his hip pocket pointing toward home plate, thus ensuring a little more turn in his delivery.
Otherwise, Searage said he suggested a change in mentality with runners on base.
“You can see it come out every now and then that when he gets into trouble, he'll try and do things harder or make his pitch better,” Searage said. “He'll try and prove stuff. When I started seeing that, I was going, ‘Frankie, I want you to focus on what's in front of you not what just happened behind you.' ”
Opponents are batting .239 against Liriano with men on base and .246 with runners in scoring position this season versus .255 with runners on and .267 with runners in scoring position in 2012.
“I just try to do the same thing I was doing with the bases empty,” he said. “In the past, what got me in trouble was, when I got men on base, I'd try to do too much and overthrow and be more nasty than I was. It didn't work for me. Now I'm just trying to stay calm and hit my spots.”
The left-hander's command has been solid this season, and while his strikeout-per-nine inning rate is nearly the same this year (9.4) as it was last year (9.6), he's walking nearly two fewer per nine innings (from 5.0 to 3.3), and his home runs per nine has dropped from 1.1 in 2012 to 0.4 this year.
Liriano also lost the four-seam fastball and has, instead, relied heavily on his 93- to 94-mph sinker plus a slider and changeup in the 86- to 87-mph range. He isn't afraid to throw any of them when he's behind in the count.
“He can throw a slider when he's 2-0 or his changeup when it's 2-0, and they can both be strikes,” Searage said. “It gets him back in the count or even in the count and then as a hitter you're going, ‘Gosh, what do I do now?' ”
Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at email@example.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: Cole scratched from rehab start at Indianapolis
- Locke’s difficulties continue thanks to old friends
- Saturday’s scouting report: Pirates at Diamondbacks
- Rossi: Buying trust is a must for Pirates
- Pirates’ attempts to bolster roster at deadline a fruitless endeavor
- Pirates notebook: Marte to begin rehab stint at Triple-A Saturday
- Pirates pitching guru Benedict created a ‘Vanimal’ in Worley
- Xxxday’s scouting report: Pirates at Giants
- Stats Corner: Mercer rediscovers offensive game
- Pirates’ Worley tosses 4-hit shutout vs. Giants
- Thursday’s scouting report: Pirates at Diamondbacks