Twins' Liriano can only wait

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 20, 2007 - 8:03 AM

One of the more compelling storylines at Twins spring training, which opened Monday, is that of a young phenom pitcher who won't throw at all. Francisco Liriano is already eager to return.

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Francisco Liriano has a six-inch scar on his left elbow now, a mean-looking purple streak that clashes with his gentle, 23-year-old personality.

Liriano rolled up his sleeve to show it off Monday morning, realizing he had nothing better to do.

The rest of the Twins pitchers were out in the sunshine, going through their first spring training workout. Liriano was still inside, waiting for the fields to clear so he could do some running drills.

Just a few more tiny steps in his year-long recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery.

"It's going to be hard for me waiting for next year because I don't feel any pain," Liriano said. "I just want to throw."

The Twins sure wish he could, too.

Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA last year and was the favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year honors before injuring the elbow in early August. Three months later, after one aborted comeback and weeks of indecision, Liriano underwent the procedure known as Tommy John surgery.

On Nov. 6 in Los Angeles, Dr. Lewis Yocum took a tendon from Liriano's left forearm and used it to replace the medial collateral ligament in the elbow. The Twins announced Liriano would miss the entire 2007 season.

Since then, Liriano has said very little publicly. Asked if he was frustrated with the team, Liriano said, "A little bit because I wanted to get [the surgery] done a long time ago."

He said he skipped TwinsFest last month so he could focus on his rehab program in Miami. He told reporters in the Dominican Republic that he wanted to throw from a mound by October.

On Monday, he met with the Twins again to establish a realistic timeline.

"They told me this morning that I'm not going to try to pitch this year," he said. "I'm going to take it easy, make sure everything's fine and come back in 2008. But I would like to pitch in winter ball."

Liriano said that would mean pitching in the Dominican winter league by November. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan cautioned that it would likely be December, but he said that's a reasonable goal.

"We have a rehab schedule, and I think we're pretty much pointing toward winter ball," Ryan said. "He might be able to participate in some drills in the [fall] instructional league camp ... but we are not going to jeopardize anything with this young man's future."

Liriano has spent the past three months strengthening the elbow and building up the rest of his body. He weighed in at 218 pounds this week -- 15 pounds heavier than he was at this time last year.

It helps that Liriano's best friend, Merkin Valdez, had the same Tommy John procedure done to his right arm in September 2005. Valdez, who was once rated as a top prospect, is pitching in big-league camp this spring for the San Francisco Giants.

Liriano knows he's going to spend most of the season in Fort Myers, taking baby steps. Ryan said he might begin throwing a baseball again in April. Patience is the key.

"He had a smile on his face this morning," Ryan said. "Our trainers and doctors are very encouraged that he has been doing the therapy and the rehab."

And best of all, by the first day of spring training next year Liriano should have no restrictions. That was enough to make him smile, even though it's going to be a long 12 months.

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