August 4, 2008

The Franchise is back...

In his first start in three and a half months, Francisco Liriano's first start closely resembled his success that he's shown in Rochester since his demotion. Although he was not necessarily sharp with his command, he managed to throw 6 scoreless innings while allowing just 3 hits, 3 free passes and threw only 58% of his pitches for strikes. However, his lack of command could have been from a result in his nerves.

Although the results were similar, Liriano hardly resembled his 22-year-old self back in 2006 when he over powered nearly every hitter with a mid-upper 90's fastball. Now he is a 24-year-old, who tops out in the low 90's (with reports of reaching the mid-90's) however he still induced a 9-5 ground ball ratio which Liriano has always been successful at. So hopefully this is a precursor that suggests he's gained back a lot of the movement on his pitches. 75% of Liriano's first pitches were fastballs, however only 33% of those were thrown for strikes, which suggests that we haven't seen the last of his inconsistency to find the strike zone.

Liriano looked like a night and day difference than what we saw from him back in April. He is much more confident in his pitches - primarily his fastball - and just seemed to not try and do too much on the mound. The last time we saw Liriano, he was over working himself almost looking like he was trying to miraculously re-find his velocity. But right now, he just seemed to be more understanding that he can only do what his arm allows him to do.

The first year after a pitcher returns from Tommy John Surgery is normally a complete wash and if the Twins can get even a league-average starter the rest of the way, the Twins have to be feeling pretty confident about the future of Liriano and the starting rotation.

Next season, unless something unexpected comes up, Liriano should regain more and more of his ace form and could be the Twins #1 starter from the get-go. One thing is for certain, with the starting rotation being so good at such a young overall age, the Twins should be able to shop a few pitching prospects for an upgrade in the field or in the bullpen, which could make this team an even more likely contender next season. That was one of the reasoning's for Terry Ryan's reluctance to trade any pitching prospects last season, and now with the re-arrival of a seemingly healthy Liriano, the team must feel very good about its pitching situation.

But right now, the Twins have to feel very good that they are in first place without having to make any trades. And the team will only get better with Michael Cuddyer set to return from injury within the next couple weeks. Although he's had a down season, he is valuable run producer who could give our team a 'second wind' which will be needed as we get into the 'Dog Days' of August. He could boost our offense, while Liriano boosts our rotation.

Game Ball: 8/3/08
Francisco Liriano - Starting Pitcher
6 innings pitched, 3 hits, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts, win
Twins win, 6-2.