Rick Sutcliffe won 171 games as a major league pitcher. These days, the 1984 National League Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs works as an analyst for ESPN baseball broadcasts and will be working Monday night's game between the Twins and Red Sox. In advance of that game -- which was slated to feature Francisco Liriano in his first start since his no-hitter, but will now be started by Nick Blackburn -- Sutcliffe chatted with the Star Tribune's Michael Rand about pitching subjects and the Twins' early-season struggles:
Q You guys have a three-man booth with you, former MLB third baseman Aaron Boone and [play-by-play man] Sean McDonough. How does that dynamic work out, and how do you try to contribute with your own style?
A To me, it's just kind of like a couple of guys sitting on the couch -- friends talking about the game. You can tell by listening to me that I don't have a broadcasting background. The college I went to is called the college of the minor leagues. You listen to Sean McDonough and Syracuse jumps off the screen. You can tell he went to the same school a lot of the great ones went to. But I don't try to confuse anybody with a professional broadcaster. I'm a former player, and if there's a strength I have, I talk to the players.
Q What's your take on Liriano's no-hitter?
A The interesting part to me is that we have a pregame meeting [Tuesday] before "Baseball Tonight." I mentioned to our group of maybe 25 people that I wanted to keep an eye on Liriano and why he had been struggling so much. [Laughs.] And next thing you know, after the fifth inning, we had to play more attention [to the no-hit bid]. I was looking at his fastball and command, noticing he wasn't throwing as many breaking balls. You saw him being more aggressive. And he mentioned he gave up on the two-seam fastball. That's what I call a "surrender pitch." That ball is going to be put into play. It's designed to keep your pitch count down. ... I don't know if that kind of pitch suits Liriano. He's a power guy and he likes to embarrass people.
Q What about the accomplishment of throwing a no-hitter in general?
A Don Drysdale told me a long time ago, that as a starting pitcher, you don't control the outcome. All you control is your effort. All the things -- luck, having the best stuff of your career, the opposing team struggling -- I've seen a bunch of no-hitters, and every one of those things goes into it.
Q Hearing you talk about the "surrender pitch" is interesting. Liriano and the term "pitching to contact" have been discussed a lot here.
A Not everybody can throw a sinker. Most of the guys that can't get the ball to sink can at least throw a cutter. Late movement to either side of the plate really accomplishes the same goal and that's keeping the pitch count down. I wouldn't be surprised to see Liriano and Rick Anderson thinking about that pitch and going deeper into games.
Q The Twins have played a little better lately, but they're still struggling overall. Any final thoughts on the biggest single factor in their slow start?
A It's all on the shoulders of one guy, and that's Joe Mauer. ... I'm not knocking anybody who gets back there, but there's nobody like him. We know about the batting titles, we know about the MVP, and the relationship with pitchers, but I've had home plate umpires tell me he gives them a better view [of pitches] than any catcher in baseball. And that makes their job easier. ... He gets as generous a strike zone as anybody in baseball because of the great view he gives those [umpires]. I don't care what the Twins do. If they don't get Mauer back and he's not healthy, they're not going anywhere.