Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Last night on Fox Sports North, they aired a replay of the Twins/Devil Rays game from July 18, 2006. Pretty random, right? Well, from the start, I had a feeling it would be a pretty special game. You see, the game pitted Francisco Liriano against Scott Kazmir. I was so excited to see the two young lefties that I did An Analysis of Two Young Guns. Liriano was certainly up for the challenge, as he had been against Roger Clemens and the Astros three weeks earlier. Liriano was throwing hard, hitting 97 mph and sitting between 93 and 95. His changeup was on. His slider was biting. It was a great start to illustrate just how good he can be, and how good we hope he can be again!
But looking back at that start, there were a few things that should have caught our attention earlier:
1. Of the 111 pitches he threw, 48 of them were sliders, just 43 were fastball and 20 were changeups. Don’t get me wrong, listening to several of his Rochester starts and hearing about his 91 mph slider got me excited and we saw how dominant that can make him. But to throw nearly 50% sliders, with the effort necessary to do so. Lesson Learned – The Twins really need to monitor how many sliders Liriano throws. If he throws 100 pitches, they should regulate that only 20 can be sliders. In fact, something like 40% fastball, 40% changeups and 20% sliders would be good. Maybe even 60% fastballs, 20% sliders and changeups. Liriano has enough fastball with enough control that he could do well by just showing the two other pitches and primarily using a fastball. This is up to Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond as well.
2. Watching the 8th and 9th innings again, you could see that he was tiring, visibly after many of his pitches. Lesson Learned – I don’t necessarily disagree with Bert Blyleven on pitch count sometimes being overrated. I agree with those that say effort along with pitch count is important. A pitcher can really work hard and be done after 80 pitches. Other times, a pitcher could easily throw 120 pitches with little extra effort. Especially during the entire 2008 season, the Twins really need to monitor not only the pitch count, but the effort he is giving.
As dominant as Liriano was in this start, ten days later I received the following e-mail from an unnamed reader:
There is a rumor floating around that apparently began with Liriano's girlfriend that he has pain in his arm near the elbow and they are trying to figure out what it is and dealing with the pain.
Got this from a reliable source a few people removed from the girlfriend.
I dug into it a little. I e-mailed the Twins beat writers and they hadn’t heard that, or they saw him pitching in the bullpen before his next start. I didn’t post anything about it. I had a scoop, some inside info, and I didn’t use it. The person who told me was in no way affiliated with the Twins, and Liriano was pitching so well.
The night I received the e-mail, Liriano was scheduled to start against the Tigers. He made the start and despite giving up two runs in the first inning, he gave up just two runs over eight innings and struck out 12 Tigers. The Twins lost 3-2 in 10 innings. So, my assumption was that he was just fine.
Two days later, I wrote, “Worst news – Francisco Liriano has been scratched from his start on Wednesday due to lingering discomfort in his pitching elbow. That is not good news. I had heard about this last Friday, but then he went out and threw the great game against the Tigers that night, so I had hoped it was not true. Liriano’s arm/elbow/shoulder regions are as important to the Twins hopes in 2006 and into the next years, so it is crucial that they be as patient, or more, as they need to be!”
He missed just the one start and then came back the following Monday, August 7th, to make a start against the Tigers. I wrote “The Twins lost to the Detroit Tigers 9-3. Francisco Liriano started and gave up four runs on ten hits over just four innings. Really, he did very well for himself to only allow the four runs as he was very clearly not himself.” It was tough. “According to a Joe Christenson article, Liriano was nearly in tears describing the pain he felt while pitching and that he could not throw any of his pitches.”
Matt Garza was called up the next morning and Liriano was put on the Disabled List that afternoon. Why Liriano made that start in the first place left me with plenty of questions.
I ended that posting by writing “As Twins fans, we have to hope for the best. As human beings, we have to hope for the best. I can only imagine the emotions that Liriano is going through right now.”
I fully believe that. Too many of us have a tendency to make ball players something super human. Sure, they have some super human talent when it comes to baseball, but we do forget the mental and psychological side of the game.
Liriano is expected to report to Twins camp tomorrow, and I can only imagine the emotions he will be feeling. How will his arm and specifically his elbow respond? At some point, his arm will likely make a noise that will scare him, and how will he respond to that? It is possible that these things have already happened in his comeback during the last year. As fans, I really, really think we need to temper our expectations. Liriano had Tommy John surgery. That is major. The Twins were wise to tell him not to even think about 2007. That really will give him about a year and a half between surgery and getting on the mound for the Twins. That is certainly best case scenario. We all want the best for the Twins, but we also have to take Francisco Liriano himself into our thoughts and hope for the best for him. We want him to start. The Twins and their training staff may determine that letting him work out of the bullpen for a few months to keep his innings down may make sense. We probably all have theories on what is best, but we just have to trust that what they decide to do is what is best for his long-term career. Patience is going to be the key. It’ll have to be the key for Gardy and for Bill Smith, and it will have to be the key for Twins fans!
Francisco Liriano is an amazing talent. What he showed in his four months in the big leagues in 2006 tell us that he could be a once in a generation kind of talent. Let’s not forget that we were saying he was better than Johan Santana… and Santana won the Cy Young Award that year! He’s young. Cautious! I can’t emphasize enough the importance of patience!