What should be done with Liriano?

Josh JohnsonCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Pitcher Francisco Liriano #47 of the Minnesota Twins watches his team from the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game on September 19, 2008 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Twins got another good start from their starting pitcher last night, giving them a 2-1 lead in the current series against Boston, and making them 2-3 on the season 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 in that span is 2.50 through 46.2 innings. They 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 outing.

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 four (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).

Glen Perkins' season started out great, but elbow irritation ultimately landed him on the disabled list, though not before five terrible starts which made his ERA skyrocket 3.86 points in just 23 innings.

Francisco Liriano has really struggled this the season, while Scott Baker's season has been a roller coaster. Baker has looked great at times, and horrible at others. Fortunately for Baker, the Twins no longer have any minor league options that would lead them to send Baker 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 he be demoted 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 disagree.

As Nick mentions, Liriano has been pitching well this season. His command has been erratic at times, but his 'stuff' is slowly regaining some form. But if he is lacking confidence—which he seems to be—perhaps he needs a little time in the minor leagues to figure things out. While Anderson's presence is certainly an advantage, Liriano has credited a lot of his success to current Detroit pitching coach Bobby Cuellar. Cuellar, if you don't remember was 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 what 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, 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, that seems a lot like Liriano's current situation. His confidence is low since he can't get Major League hitters out. He gets frazzled under 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.

While Perkins is out, Liriano's spot will most likely remain safe. The Twins do have a couple of minor league options in Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey, whose recent successes could come at a perfect time for the Twins, but it's unlikely they'd do anything until Perkins returns. With only two starters really giving consistent efforts, the Twins could be in for a rotation mixup at some point in the not-too-distant-future.

Gordon Edes of Yahoo! Sports believes that the Twins could be interested in Red Sox starter Brad Penny. The Red Sox might have some expendable pitchers, 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 contenders 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 20th in baseball with a 4.69 ERA, while the rotation sits 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 where that the rotation is a simultaneous concern.

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 improve, and we'll see how the next few weeks play out.