May 28, 2009

What should be done with Liriano?

The Twins got another good start from their starting pitcher last night, giving the Twins a 2-1 lead in the series and brings them to 2-3 on the series series against the Boston Red Sox. The Twins are now 6-1 in their last seven games, thanks in large part to great starting pitching. The starters ERA over that time is 2.50 through 46.2 innings. The starters have also averaged 6 2/3 innings per start. Other than Monday's start, in which Liriano gave up five runs over four innings, the starters had all given up three runs or less in each start.

Kevin Slowey improved to 7-1 while holding the Red Sox to just two runs through six innings last night. His ERA still sits above 4 (4.11 to be exact), but Slowey's been great in his last four starts. Since his rained-shortened start in Baltimore, Slowey is 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA. 19 strikeouts compared to just 3 walks have allowed him to post a 1.19 WHIP over that same span. After struggling in his first two starts, Slowey has really been impressive and continues to give the Twins a consistent effort, something only Nick Blackburn can say (among Twins starters).

Francisco Liriano has really struggled throughout the season while Scott Baker's season has been a roller coaster. Glen Perkins season started out great, but elbow irritation ultimately landed him on the disabled list, but not before giving five terrible starts which made his ERA skyrocket 3.86 points in just 23 innings. Baker has looked great at times, and horrible at others. But fortunately for Baker, he no longer has any minor league options that give the Twins the opportunity to send him to the minors, unless he is placed on the disabled list first. That is something Liriano isn't so fortunate to have.

Liriano's problems seem to be mainly mental, which is why some have suggested his demotion to the bullpen or Triple-A. Nick Nelson believes that Liriano should remain in Minnesota to work side-by-side with pitching coach Rick Anderson. While that makes sense on the surface, I do disagree. As Nick mentions, Liriano has been pitching well this season. While his command has been erratic at times, his 'stuff' is slowely regaining some form and has even looked great at times this season. But if it is confidence that Liriano lacks, which it seems to be, perhaps he needs a little time in the minor leagues to figure things out. While Anderson's pressence is certainly an advantage, Liriano has credited a lot of his success to (now) Red Wings pitching coach Bobby Cuellar. Cuellar, if you don't remember is also a key component in Johan Santana's success.

Liriano said of Cuellar, "He opened my eyes to see what I am right now. I appreciate whe he did for me." Does that mean he helped Liriano's confidence? By the way it's worded, it certainly could be. But regardless, it does seem as though Cuellar's presence could help Liriano.

Here is what Anderson said of Liriano's demotion last season: "Confidence comes with success," Anderson said. "He's got to get down there and clear his mind, and he admitted to me that he's thinking too much about what he's doing. I asked him, 'How did you feel before you were hurt?' He said, 'I didn't think think, I just threw.' He's not to that point yet. When he does get to that point, he will have success, and success breeds confidence."

To me at least, that seems a lot like the situation that Liriano is currently in. His confidence is low while he can't get Major League hitting out. He gets frazzled with any pressure and loses his composure.

While Anthony Swarzak makes his start today against another high-powered offense, he could be making a bid for Liriano's spot in the rotation, not Perkins' whose spot in the rotation is believed to be on the bubble by many. But while Perkins is out, Liriano's spot will most-likely remain safe. The Twins do have a couple minor league options in Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey whose recent success' could be coming at a perfect time for the Twins, but it's unlikely they'd do anything until Perkins returns. With really only two starters giving consistent efforts, the Twins could be in for a rotation mix-up at some point in the not-too-distant-future.

Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports believes that the Twins could be a team that is interested in Red Sox starter Brad Penny. The Red Sox of course could have pitching to trade with John Smoltz rehabbing and Clay Buchholz lighting up the mound in Triple-A. Penny is getting back to his ground ball ways, but his contract could prevent the Twins from being players for his services. But the thought of adding a starting pitcher hasn't really been discussed much. The general consensus has been that middle infield and relief help are needs, not wants. And while I wholeheartedly agree, bolstering our starting pitching could also become a need and not a want. The bullpen currently sits at 20th in baseball with a 4.69 ERA while the rotation sits at 22nd in baseball with a 4.96 ERA. That's not to say that the bullpen isn't the bigger concern, but it's to point out that the rotation is also a concern at this point as well.

(As of Wednesday) The Twins have scored the seventh most runs in baseball, while their pitchers have also given up the seventh most. That obviously needs to get better, and we'll see how the next few weeks play out.