Souhan: Fearing end of career, Liriano now at height of it

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2013 - 11:57 AM

The former Twin’s secret has been getting ahead in the count and location, location, location.

hide

This year, Francisco Liriano finally has realized the potential he flashed in his rookie season with the Twins.

Photo: GENE J. PUSKAR • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Francisco Liriano hasn’t reprised 2006, hasn’t rediscovered the 92-mph slider that could clip the outside corner before clipping a righthanded hitter’s big toe. In a way, he’s become even more impressive in 2013 than he was as a carefree Twins rookie with unhittable stuff.

Wednesday night at Miller Park, Liriano will take the mound as the most surprising player on baseball’s most surprising team, eight months after fearing that his once-meteoric and more often puzzling career had ended.

“Yeah, I did worry,” he said. “I thought nobody was going to sign me, because that happened the night before I was going to get my physical done.”

Before Christmas, Liriano planned to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The lefthander says he was horsing around with his kids, banging into a door to scare them at his home in the Dominican Republic, when he hurt his right arm.

When he discovered his arm was broken, he worried that negotiations were dead. The Pirates, he said, called four days later and restructured the contract, lessening the guaranteed money, and Liriano gratefully signed.

Eight months later, Liriano is the ace of the Pirates and of the unofficial All-Star team of former Twins scattered around the big leagues. He’s bringing a record of 15-6 and an ERA of 2.57 into the latest start of a season that would make him a Cy Young Award contender if he didn’t pitch in the same league as Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw.

“We’re having a blast right now,” Liriano said.

Liriano might be the key to what will be the Pirates’ first winning season since 1992, and the Pirates take obvious pride in having coaxed him toward the form that made him the most dominant pitcher in the majors for three months in 2006.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said a mechanical adjustment smoothed out Liriano’s delivery, and that learning to pitch ahead in the count has made his slider and changeup devastating.

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage went into more detail. He’s encouraged Liriano to “stay on his back side longer,” meaning keep his weight on his left foot longer, to avoid rushing his delivery. Tuesday in the Pirates clubhouse, Searage mimicked Liriano’s delivery, saying the pitcher had to learn to pull his hands toward the left side of his chest, “Toward the big ‘P’ on the jersey,” Searage said. “This way he’s nice and smooth on his stride out to home plate, and he can do whatever he wants with the ball.”

Of course, Liriano heard similar advice from the Twins and White Sox. He admits the broken arm gave him more time to think about pitching. He missed the first month of the season but used the down time to revamp his deliver and channel his desperation.

“I was frustrated, being home, being hurt again,” he said. “I wasn’t doing much at all. I couldn’t do much, with my broken arm. But everything happens for a reason. You’ve got to thank God for everything that happens in your life, and move forward and find a way to get better.”

“The man made a commitment to improving himself, an honest self-evaluation over the winter,” Hurdle said. “Then he got handed some more adversity with the injury, which gave him more time to prepare.”

Why couldn’t he pitch this well with the Twins?

“To be honest, in 2011, I was hurting,” Liriano said. “My shoulder was bothering me the whole year. Last year [with the Twins and White Sox], I was walking guys, not throwing strikes, trying to do too much.”

And now? “I think most of it is location,” he said. “I’m throwing strikes, getting ahead.”

With the Twins in recent years, Liriano often pitched well for four or five innings, but when he encountered trouble, he would overthrow, lose his balance and compound his woes.

“Every time I’d get guys on base, I was trying to do too much,” he said. “I would get too aggressive. I would get mad … and I would overthrow, and not think about locating my pitches. Now, when I get guys on base, I try to do the same thing I was doing before, just locate my pitches.”

Hurdle raves about those pitches, the “dynamite slider, that parachute changeup, the good two-seam fastball, the four-seam fastball.”

Those pitches and Liriano’s newfound ability to control them have made him the most unlikely ace on baseball’s most unlikely contender. He hasn’t posted an ERA lower than 5.09 since 2010. He’s won a career-high 15 games and is trying to become the first Pirates lefty to win more than 15 in a season since 1991. When his starts have followed a Pirates loss, he’s 8-2 with a 1.26 ERA.

Always quiet and polite, Liriano looks embarrassed when called an “ace.”

“No, no, I don’t consider myself an ace,” he said. “But I like to go out there and know the guys can count on me. I’m having a good time right now.”

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 1 Bottom 4th Inning
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 1 Top 5th Inning
NY Yankees 0
Detroit 0 Top 5th Inning
Baltimore 0
Toronto 3 Bottom 4th Inning
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2:05 PM
Cleveland
San Diego 2:05 PM
Seattle
Chicago WSox 2:05 PM
Los Angeles
Kansas City 2:05 PM
Texas
Oakland 2:05 PM
San Francisco
Wisc-Milwaukee 2:05 PM
Milwaukee
Arizona 2:10 PM
Colorado
Univ of Minnesota 6:05 PM
Minnesota
New York 6:00 PM
Indiana
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Orlando
Cleveland 6:30 PM
Toronto
Utah 6:30 PM
Boston
Charlotte 6:30 PM
Brooklyn
Denver 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Detroit 7:00 PM
New Orleans
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Miami
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Memphis 7:00 PM
Houston
Sacramento 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
Golden State
Portland 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Winnipeg
NY Rangers 7:00 PM
Detroit
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Colorado
Montreal 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 1:30 PM
Gardner-Webb
Liberty 5:00 PM
UNC-Asheville
Ohio State 5:00 PM
Penn State
Maine 6:00 PM
Albany
Duquesne 6:00 PM
Fordham
George Washington 6:00 PM
George Mason
Tennessee 6:00 PM
LSU
Notre Dame 6:00 PM
Louisville
SE Missouri St 6:00 PM
Morehead State
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Mount St Marys
Hartford 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Wagner 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Long Island 6:00 PM
St Francis-NY
La Salle 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs
Providence 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
UCF 6:00 PM
South Florida
Binghamton 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
UMBC 6:00 PM
Vermont
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Bryant
Richmond 6:30 PM
Massachusetts
Wake Forest 7:00 PM
Duke
Purdue 7:00 PM
Michigan State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Pittsburgh
St Bonaventure 7:00 PM
Saint Louis
New Mexico St 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
Howard 7:00 PM
NJIT
SIU Edwardsville 8:00 PM
Eastern Ill
St Johns 8:00 PM
Marquette
TCU 8:00 PM
Oklahoma State
Cincinnati 8:00 PM
Tulsa
USC 8:00 PM
UCLA
Miss State 8:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Utah State 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Air Force 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Nebraska 9:00 PM
Illinois
Colorado State 9:00 PM
Nevada
Boise State 9:00 PM
San Jose St
San Diego St 10:00 PM
UNLV
Oregon 10:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Santa Barbara 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 38 2nd Half
Boston College 32
Eastern Illinois 28 2nd Half 10:42
UT Martin 55
Austin Peay 2:00 PM
SIU-Edwardsville
Virginia Tech 2:30 PM
NC State
Massachusetts 3:30 PM
St Bonaventure
Auburn 4:00 PM
Florida
Penn State 5:00 PM
Indiana
Clemson 5:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Davidson 6:00 PM
La Salle
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Cleveland State
Coll of Charleston 6:00 PM
James Madison
Delaware 6:00 PM
Elon
Drexel 6:00 PM
Northeastern
Hofstra 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Towson 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Akron
Ball State 6:00 PM
Central Michigan
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Bowling Green
Western Mich 6:00 PM
Eastern Michigan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
Kent State
Illinois-Chicago 6:00 PM
Wright State
Loyola-Maryland 6:00 PM
Lafayette
Boston U 6:00 PM
Colgate
Alabama 6:25 PM
Vanderbilt
Detroit 7:00 PM
Milwaukee
Purdue 7:25 PM
Wisconsin
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is doing the best job coaching a Minnesota pro sports team?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close