Liriano’s latest hope: eliminating a pitch

Posted on June 23rd, 2009 – 10:51 AM
By Joe Christensen

MILWAUKEE — Just landed at the Milwaukee airport and wanted to expand on something I hinted at in today’s series preview.

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson rarely emerges from a pitcher’s practice session discouraged, at least outwardly, so take this with a grain of salt, but he raved about Francisco Liriano’s latest tuneup Saturday.

Liriano will pitch tonight, when the Twins open a three-game series against the Brewers at Miller Park. On Saturday, Liriano threw for 12 minutes in a pregame bullpen session and hit bullpen Nate Dammann’s glove on all but about three pitches.

“His pen was nasty,” Anderson said. “Nate walks away after catching him and says, ‘Shoot, he’s got the best stuff of anyone. Just a matter or taking it into the game.’ ”

Liriano is 2-8 with a 5.91 ERA for the season but 0-1 with a 3.79 ERA in his past three starts. His mechanics have been more consistent of late, Anderson said, and there’s hope that refining Liriano’s repertoire might keep him even more consistent.

Turns out, Liriano had been throwing two different sliders. One was the sharp-breaking slider he uses as an out pitch. The other had a shorter break. Liriano told Anderson that one of the two homers he allowed last Wednesday against Pittsburgh came on his “short slider.”

This was news to Anderson. No wonder Liriano’s mechanics go haywire sometimes.

“I said, ‘You’re going to decide — short one or big one. Throw one biter, and don’t mess around around in between them.’ ”

At least Liriano doesn’t seem defeated, which is a natural concern considering he entered the season 19-9 for his career with a 3.14 ERA.

“I try not to think about [the record],” Liriano said. “I try to put it behind me and move forward, try to get better each start. Try to take it one-by-one. Sometimes you need to be lucky in this game.”

Liriano has been good in the windup but struggled out of the stretch. Consider this breakdown of opposing hitters success with men on base vs. nobody on base:

2008
Nobody on base: .250/.318/.406
Men on base: .260/.338/.374

2009
Nobody on base: .243/.314/.399
Men on base: .325/.413/.595

“That’s been the problem,” Liriano said. “When I’ve got men on base, I miss pitches sometimes, try to do too much.”

The Twins have been encouraged by Liriano’s recent outings.

“If you watch the hitter’s reactions, he’s throwing the ball pretty good,” Manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s not easy to hit. He makes a few mistakes here and there, but he’s got good stuff.”

Tonight, we’ll see if refining that stuff helps Liriano regains his old form.

Note: Check back here this afternoon for tonight’s starting lineups, along with injury updates on Justin Morneau and Nick Punto.

Update: Joe Mauer is this week’s Sports Illustrated cover story, a piece written by Tom Verducci. This is Mauer’s second SI cover.

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