ShareThis Page

Quietly, Liriano 1 of Pirates leaders

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers during live batting practice Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — An outgoing personality and a love of competition made A.J. Burnett one of the Pirates' leaders last season. But after Burnett's departure, the players are not fretting about who will fill his role in the clubhouse.

This year, one of the club's most influential players again can be found in the starting rotation. He has a different style from Burnett — neither loud nor brash — and nobody will get a shaving cream pie in the face.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano might seem an unlikely candidate to be a leader. In fact, he usually shrugs off suggestions that his teammates look to him for cues. But he does the job just the same.

“The warrior-type attitude (Burnett) had kind of trickled down. But he wasn't the only leader on the team,” catcher Russell Martin said. “Liriano was more of a quiet presence, but he took the ball every time and competed just like A.J. did. You can't replace somebody, but the next guy can do what he can to make his own mark.”

Liriano earned respect by what he did on the field. A broken non-pitching arm nearly cost him a chance to sign with the Pirates and then sidelined him until early May. He finished with 16 regular-season wins, then rang up a stirring victory in the National League wild-card game.

“One thing about Frankie, he's a quiet leader,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “He'll lead by his actions on the bump. He's helped out not only with the Latin pitchers but also the American pitchers. He's very approachable and very knowledgeable. That's why guys kind of congregate around him.”

During spring training this year, manager Clint Hurdle has matched Liriano with new arrival Edinson Volquez for bullpen sessions and other drills. Hurdle expects that working with Liriano, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, can only help Volquez, who went 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA last season.

“I wanted to get Edinson to hang around a guy who works extremely well and is professional,” Hurdle said. “I think that companionship, camaraderie, bonding and sharing of information is going to help.”

The communication flows both ways as Liriano is not afraid to ask for advice from guys on the pitching staff. Before his first start against the Milwaukee Brewers last season, Liriano pulled aside left-hander Wandy Rodriguez in the clubhouse.

“He asked me, ‘Wandy, how do you pitch to (Carlos) Gomez? Every time I face him, he kills me. So I'm willing to try anything,' ” Rodriguez said. “I told him, ‘Never repeat the pitch. Throw inside and up, and he'll be swinging. He loves to swing. Throw him an inside fastball, so later you can go away with a breaking ball in the dirt.' ”

In the first inning, Gomez faced Liriano with a runner on base and two outs.

“Liriano went one pitch, two pitches, three pitches and he got him (swinging),” Rodriguez said. “He came off the field and told me, ‘Oh, thank you!' ”

Entering the game, Gomez was 5 for 8, including two home runs, in his career against Liriano. That night, Gomez went 0 for 4, including a pair of strikeouts, and Liriano picked up the win.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.