Liriano's start a success in return to hill
Twins left-hander walks one, strikes out one in 1 2/3 innings
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- One of the biggest questions that awaited the Twins on Friday was whether Francisco Liriano would look like the same pitcher they saw during his stellar 2006 rookie season.And he did, except with a few slight changes. In his much anticipated return to the mound for the Twins on Friday, Liriano pitched 1 2/3 innings in the club's 7-2 win over the Red Sox. He allowed one walk and two hits while throwing a total of 40 pitches. "It was probably even better than I anticipated," pitching coach Rick Anderson said of Liriano's start. "I thought he would be a little more excited than he was. But he kept himself under control and pounded the strike zone. It was pretty good for a first outing in a year and a half." Friday's start against Boston marked Liriano's first game action against a Major League opponent since September 2006, when he left a start after two innings due to elbow pain. The left-hander underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery two months later and has been slowly traveling the road to recovery ever since. "I was a little bit nervous," Liriano said of the start. "But after the first hitter, it went away and wasn't nervous at all." In the first inning, Liriano recorded a groundout and a flyout against the first two batters he faced. He then walked David Ortiz on five pitches, but finished the inning by getting Manny Ramirez to strike out swinging on a changeup. Liriano's second inning began with two quick popups, but he gave up back-to-back hits to Sean Casey and Keith Ginter before he reached his pitch limit and was taken out of the game. The results were positive, but the Twins were more intrigued to see if the changes that Liriano has made during his rehabilitation were able to continue once he moved to a bigger stage. Since Liriano arrived at camp this spring, nine days late due to visa troubles, the most noticeable difference in the pitcher has been his delivery. During his All-Star rookie campaign in '06, Liriano was known for a violent motion and strong leg kick that often left his backside facing home plate at the finish. In his first four throwing sessions this spring -- two bullpen sessions and two live batting practices -- Liriano appeared to have calmed down the finish to his throwing motion considerably.
That was the case again on Friday, as the left-hander looked to be balanced and in control over most of his outing. Although, there were still glimpses at times of his old finish."He still gets there a little bit," Anderson said of Liriano's former motion. "By no means is he going to be a follow-through delivery guy." There is a chance that the motion could get worse as Liriano gets closer to the start of the season. He said again on Friday that he is throwing at just 80 percent and hasn't yet felt like he's "letting it all go." Liriano's numbers didn't appear to show that he was giving it his all. The 24-year-old's fastball topped out at 91 mph, below the 95 mph he was reportedly hitting during his two outings at the Twins Academy in the Dominican Republic last month. But Anderson said that with Liriano still working on his new delivery, it will take some time for him to adjust and gain back that velocity. "He came out after the first inning and said, 'I don't throw hard anymore,'" Anderson said. "And I said, 'No you're throwing hard, easy.' "In the past, [his motion] used to be real violent, and today he was a lot smoother. When you're violent, you think you're really getting after it. But he was smoother so it doesn't feel like it. His velocity was plenty good and pretty good for his first outing." Liriano threw all of his pitches during the outing, and showed pretty strong command of both his fastball and changeup. But he said it's his trademark slider that still needs work. The left-hander threw a total of just five sliders on the day and he said that he hung a few of them. The pitch also appeared to have taken on a look of more of a curveball. It's something that Liriano attributed to his arm motion. "I'm not letting it go right now, so it's starting to look like that," Liriano said. "I'm just a little scared to throw it right now. But it will get better." Liriano is scheduled to pitch again in four days, putting him up for a start on Tuesday when the Twins host the Rays at Hammond Stadium. Despite the fact that Liriano was delayed in his arrival to camp, Anderson said that he expects the pitcher to be ready for a starting job at the end of spring. And following his performance on Friday, he's optimistic about the chances of him leaving camp as part of the Twins rotation. "He's on his way now," Anderson said. "He's in with the rest of the guys. The rest of the starters are getting their second start now and he's on his first. So we still have some time to keep getting him stretched out a bit. "I feel a little better just seeing him on the mound again. I'm sure he feels a little better, too."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.