Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Can Liriano shine in a contract-year?

In an interview over the weekend with 1500 ESPN, Terry Ryan expressed optimism that the starting rotation has the potential to turn things around very quickly for the Twins in the coming season. He likes the combination of veterans and familiar team players that have been part of the club's success in recent years. There is also the fact of the team only being one season removed from over 90 wins and a trip to the playoffs.

For the Twins to avoid many of the pitfalls of 2011, the starting rotation is going to have to stay healthy and produce on the field. One player who all of Twins Territory will be looking to in 2012 is Francisco Liriano. The left-handed pitcher had his fair share of struggles last season and ended the year with a disappointing ERA of 5.09 and a 1.489 WHIP in 26 games. His no-hitter might have been one of the highlights of last season but his inconsistencies were prevalent during the majority of the year.

Liriano's disappointing 2011 season came on the heels of his best season since returning to the mound from Tommy John surgery. In 2010 Liriano was able to win 14 games, post a 3.62 ERA, throw over 190 innings, and strikeout over 200 batters for the first time in his career. As the Twins headed to the playoffs, it looked like Liriano was close to turning in to the ace the team hoped he would be when they got him from the San Francisco Giants.

Since Liriano pitched the most innings of his professional career in 2010, the Twins gave him the offseason to rest and recover from the riggers of the year. Before the 2010 season, Liriano had pitched in the Dominican Winter League but the team wanted Liriano to prepare himself for 2011. When Liriano showed up to spring training at the beginning of 2011, the team quickly found out that Liriano had not done all of the stretches he needed to as part of his offseason regime. It took Liriano some time to get himself prepared in the spring and the beginning of the 2011 season was rough as he had an ERA of over nine in the first month.

At the beginning of the offseason, the Twins were unsure if Liriano would spend time pitching in the Dominican Winter League. In the end the Twins and Liriano decided to let him make a limited amount of appearances in the winter months. These outings have not gone perfectly as Liriano has faltered to a win-loss record of (0-4) with a 7.36 ERA.

Liriano's team in the DWL made the playoffs and he was asked to take the mound in a pivotal game. The outing got off to a rough start by facing eight batters in the first inning but he was able to escape the mess by only allowing two runs. He would give up a home run in the third and the final straw for Liriano was giving up a 2-run shot to former teammate Carlos Gomez. His final line was 3.2 innings pitched with six hits, five runs, three earned runs, four strikeouts, one walk, and two home runs.

This all leads to pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida in a couple of weeks. The last time Liriano pitched in the winter leagues he was able to gain some confidence and put together a tremendous campaign. The Twins hope a repeat performance will be in order for the 2012 season as he is entering the last year under contract with the club. He needs to show the Twins that he is worthy of an investment for future seasons.

With Liriano turning 28-years old during the offseason, the time could be running out for him to produce on the promise he showed in the past. The organization will give him every opportunity to show his worth in 2012 and the stakes will be high for a man who has not held up well in some pressure situations in the past. The Twins could have plenty of holes to fill in their starting rotation for 2012 and the club needs Liriano to show he wants to be a top of the rotation starter.


Andrew said...

I'm all for giving Liriano every chance to be great this year, and am trying to be optimistic, but his winter ball numbers left a lot to be desired. Specifically, he lacked control over the strike zone, like he did prettymuch all of 2011. It's going to be a tough road for Liriano if he can't get ahead of hitters again.

thrylos98 said...

I think that I like Liriano's winter numbers better than those of the other Twins' starters :) Pitching in the winter is not about fine tuning your game but getting some innings in. As since he did that, he is ahead of the rest