Francisco Liriano certainly quieted most doubters last night, but is he really back to his 2006 form?
When looking at the box score, Liriano's start yesterday perplexes even the most avid supporter of this young pitcher. How did he do it? Is it a fluke, or is Liriano really "back?"
While seven innings of two-hit baseball is great for any pitcher, let's dive deeper than the box score and evaluate how solid he truly looked.
Liriano never faced more than the minimum three batters, except for that troublesome fourth inning. He had a perfect game up to that point, but surrendered a ground-rule double to Miguel Cairo, after getting Ichiro Suzuki out on a grounder to second.
He ended up loading the bases on back-to-back walks. With two outs, and the Twins leading by two, the defense was playing back, waiting for a grounder to end the inning. Liriano forced a grounder to third that normally would have given up only one run and gotten one out.
However, Buscher made a rare mistake and misplayed the teflon bounce, causing the ball to dribble down the third-base line. Two unearned runs scored for Seattle.
Save for a lone single in the sixth, that was the only inning Liriano allowed a baserunner in that game. Pretty impressive, or a complete fluke?
In the first inning, Liriano threw 12 pitches. He fell behind two of those three batters—including the always-dangerous Raul Ibanez. At one point, the count was 3-1 before Liriano induced a flyball to left field.
Liriano fell behind 16 of the 25 batters he faced in that game. Granted, some of them were simply first-pitch balls. I could go through every single at-bat and poke holes through Liriano, but I think one particular at-bat perfectly illustrates how Liriano's night went.
In that long fourth inning, Liriano was in a pickle, as mentioned before. He had already given up two unearned runs but still had two runners in scoring position with two outs and Kenji Johjima stepping to the plate.
Johjima is not exactly the world's most deadly hitter. Actually, he is nearing Mendoza...er, Punto-line levels with his .213 batting average.
Liriano threw a first pitch 90 mph fastball to Johjima that was high and outside. He followed that with an 82 mph change-up that missed high. He returned to the fastball for the third pitch, throwing another 90 mph that missed inside. The count stood at 3-0, and Liriano hurled a 91 mph fastball in the strike zone that Johjima fouled off. 3-1.
Liriano got out alive by inducing a flyball to center field on the fifth pitch. It was a very sad at-bat for Johjima, but even more depressing for Liriano. If he ever faces a tough team like the White Sox, in September, he cannot fall behind in counts this often.
There is a huge difference between Kenji Johjima and Carlos Quentin. While the former may not turn a 3-0 count into anything, the latter almost certainly will.
On that note, it's comforting to know that Liriano, on his current schedule, will never face a real "tough" team for the remainder of this year. Let's take a look at who is currently scheduled to face through September:
Aug. 20 vs. Oakland
Aug. 25 @ Seattle
Aug. 30 @ Oakland
Sept. 5 vs. Detroit
Sept. 11 vs. Kansas City
Sept. 16 @ Cleveland
Sept. 21 @ Tampa Bay
Sept. 27 vs. Kansas City
Not exactly a killer list of teams. Tampa Bay might be the most intimidating opponent he pitches against.
That said, here is a list of what series he will skip on this schedule, courtesy of Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune:
Aug 11-13 vs. Yankees
Aug. 21-24 @ Angels
Sept. 2-4 @ Blue Jays
Sept. 12-14 @ Orioles
Sept. 23-25 vs. White Sox
Coincidence? I think not. Liriano will be able to throw like he did last night without it having a huge impact on the teams' success.
Francisco Liriano does need to improve, though, as he will be required to step up next year, if not in the 2008 postseason.