Thursday, January 5, 2012

Liriano takes the mound in winter ball

This offseason the Twins went back and forth trying to decide if Francisco Liriano would pitch in the Dominican Winter League. The left-handed hurler is coming off a rough season in which he finished with a record of 9-10 and a 5.09 ERA in 134.1 innings pitched. A couple of different trips to the disabled list plagued Liriano's 2011 campaign and all of these injuries dealt with his throwing shoulder. Many in the Twins organization traced his shoulder issues back to him not completing his offseason shoulder stretches and throwing too many bullpens prior to spring training. In his last appearance of the year, he was tagged for five earned runs in only a third of an inning pitched. This was not exactly the best way to finish the year.

Liriano has been asked to pitch in the offseason winter leagues in the past. At the end of the 2009 season, Liriano had pitched close to the same amount of innings he pitched in 2011. This meant the Twins wanted him to get a little extra work in during the offseason. He pitched over 50 innings in the Dominican to regain some of his confidence and the results were evident on the field during the next season. The 2010 season was his best since returning from Tommy John surgery as he pitched 191.2 innings with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.263 WHIP. The first season at Target Field was kind to Liriano and he managed to strikeout over 200 batters for the first time in his career.

On Tuesday night, he made his debut with the Leones del Escogldo of the Dominican Winter League. He was scheduled to pitch two innings but was forced to exit after making the second out of his last inning on the mound. For the night against the Tigres del Licey, he finished with 1.2 innings pitched, two hits, one walk, one earned run and two strikeouts. But his stat line for the night does not tell the whole story of his performance.

1st Inning: Liriano started off with a bang by getting Brad Coon to strike out swinging for the first out of the bottom half of the inning. Anderson Hernandez stepped into the box next and smacked a double into center field. The next batter hit a slow roller in front of the plate so the catcher was able to retire him for the the second out of the inning. Ronny Paulino served as the clean-up hitter for his team and he came through with a double to right field. The runner scored to put Liriano in an early hole and he was flustered enough to walk the next batter. With runners at first and second and two outs in the inning, Liriano got Christian Marrero to pop out to the second baseman to end the inning.

2nd Inning: The bottom of the second started with a weird play as the right fielder, Eury Perez, dropped a foul pop and was charged with an error. Liriano was still able to retire the batter on a ground out to the shortstop. With Liriano's closing in on his pitch count for the evening, Jordany Valdespin would represent the last batter he would face. He ended his time on the mound with the same results as the first batter of the game, a strike-out swinging. Liriano's night was book-ended by strikeouts and a little bit of chaos in the middle.

The Twins are strictly limiting the amount of innings Liriano will pitch during the end of the winter league season. Joe Christensen wrote on the Star Tribune website last night, "Liriano will not pitch more than 20 innings the rest of the Dominican season." It also sounds like Liriano regretted not being able to pitch in the winter league last offseason. He feels it is the best way for him to get prepared for spring training.

For Twins fans, the hope is the Liriano of 2010 will make a reemergence in 2012. If pitching in winter ball is all that it takes to get that version of Liriano back, I'm all for it.

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