Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Nobody knows who was the first to say that the definition of insanity is to be the same thing over and over and expect different results.
But it's time to wonder whether those words apply to the Twins and Francisco Liriano.
Four times he's started this year and four times he's been terrible. The Twins managed to win one of those games, rallying to beat the Angels 10-9 even though he gave up six runs (five earned) that afternoon at Target Field.
How bad has it been?
So bad that Liriano has an 11.02 ERA through four starts during he's lasted only 16 1/3 innings.
So bad that Liriano has put 39 batters on base in those innings.
And it gets worse.
Liriano has been just fine in the first inning of those starts -- giving up just two hits and one walk. That means in his other 12 1/3 innings, 36 batters have reached base -- 23 hits, 12 walks and 1 hit batter. That means he's pretty much put three runners on base per inning after getting through the first.
I challenge you to find another pitcher who has put together such an abysmal stretch, even in such a small sample size.
As one of my friends commented on Facebook: "He's been consistent this year. He was so much better last year when he was inconsistent."
On their weekly radio show/podcast Sunday, bloggers John Bonnes and Aaron Gleeman noted that the Twins have few available options in the minor leagues, although Scott Diamond (who spent some time with the Twins last season) has gotten off to an excellent start at Rochester. The guys said they were almost embarrassed to be comparing Liriano to Diamond for a spot in the rotation, but it's become that bad.
Could the Twins do any worse by liberating Brian Duensing or Matt Maloney from the bullpen and expecting five reasonable innings from them?
Liriano has earned a spot as the 12th man on a 12-man staff, if that.
I'm wondering if anyone in the Twins front office has considered a more drastic route: Sending Liriano to the low minors and trying to remake him as a pitcher. In other words, what the Toronto Blue Jays did to one of their pitchers after a fairly successful season in the majors and the next one, in which he gave up more than one earned run (and two base runners) per inning in 19 games.
That was Roy Halladay, who was optioned from the Blue Jays to Class A in 2001, where he started a half-season journey through the minors and changed his entire style before returning to Toronto at midseason.
Halladay won 19 games in 2002 and has been one of baseball's dominant pitchers ever since.
At this point, the Twins have little to lose by trying something similar. Given that Liriano will be a free agent after this season, he has little to lose. He has no trade value and minimal offseason value on the open market beyond a contract with a small guarantee and lots of incentives. (Lefthanded + pulse = someone takes a chance.)
Under the union contract, Liriano could refuse the demotion because he has more than five years of major league service -- and the Twins would have to keep him or cut him loose.
But throwing him out there every fifth day and expecting different results feels like a fool's game.
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