Jim Souhan: Swarzak should get consideration to replace Liriano in rotation

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2009 - 11:41 PM

If Anthony Swarzak and Francisco Liriano keep pitching the way they have of late, the rookie should remain in the rotation while the slumping lefthander moves to the bullpen.

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Anthony Swarzak pitched into the seventh inning Thursday in his second major league start for the Twins.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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"Pitchability" ranks as one of the best made-up words in baseball, right up there with "splitter," "walk-off" and "Boof."

"Pitchability" describes a pitcher's skill in navigating a lineup and making each of his offerings more effective by changing paces, planes and sequences.

"Pitchability" is what Anthony Swarzak has displayed in his first two big-league starts; it is what Francisco Liriano displays for no more than two or three innings of most his starts.

After watching Swarzak take an undeserved 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday at the Metrodome, we know what the Twins must do.

Glen Perkins probably will return from the disabled list in the middle of June, after two starts in the minor leagues. If Swarzak continues to pitch well in his next two starts, the Twins should keep him in the rotation and let Perkins replace Liriano, and move him to the bullpen.

Swarzak pitched 11 scoreless innings to start his big-league career. He has given up three earned runs in 13 innings, and one of them resulted from a misplay of a bloop to right-center in the seventh inning Thursday.

Swarzak has displayed poise and the ability to change speeds and locate his fastball, which is why he has been so much more impressive than Liriano despite Liriano's advantage in pure stuff.

"If we have to kick somebody out to put Swarzak in, then that's what we'll do," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire wasn't talking about Liriano specifically, but he's fond of Perkins as a starter, so there are few other conclusions to draw unless Scott Baker regresses.

"I'm trying to prove to the guys in this clubhouse that I belong here," Swarzak said.

His approach? "I throw a lot of fastballs," he said. "That's my MO. I work both sides of the plate, up and down, back and forth, throw changeups when I need to, try to pitch from ahead.

"I've always been aggressive with the fastball, but I learned very quick that you have to locate it, as well."

Fans in love with Liriano's reputation and dazzled by his slider fail to heed reality, which is demonstrated by his 6.42 ERA.

He struggles to maintain his balance and repeat his delivery deep into games, costing him command in the middle innings. The solution to his problem is simple: Let him enter at the beginning of the seventh or eighth inning and throw as hard as he wants for an inning or two. Remove concentration, consistency and stamina from the equation, and let him try to strike out the side.

Swarzak has indicated that he will be at least a competent starter, which makes him better than Liriano in that role. Liriano would give the Twins two potentially dominant lefthanded relievers in Jose Mijares and Liriano, both of whom, when they are on, also can pose problems for righthanders.

With Liriano and Mijares in the bullpen, the Twins could handle late-inning situations the opposite of the way most teams handle them. The Twins could use their lefties to get most of their outs in the seventh and eighth, and use their righthanders to match up with outstanding righthanded hitters.

This would keep Gardenhire from burning out Matt Guerrier, which was one of the most costly developments of the 2008 season. This would keep the Twins from having to depend on a midseason trade for a premier reliever.

"The kid's been very good," pitching coach Rick Anderson said of Swarzak. "He's been impressive."

The Twins' two biggest problems are Liriano's mediocrity and the bullpen's shakiness. Moving Swarzak into the rotation and Liriano to the bullpen might solve both.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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