Liriano unshaken by tough outing
Lefty expects challenges after reconstructive elbow surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano has said he understands that his road to recovery from left elbow ligament replacement surgery won't always go smoothly.One of those bumps in the road came Wednesday. In just his second start of the spring, Liriano struggled to find his command, giving up three runs on four hits in the Twins' 12-7 loss to the Red Sox. "You have to be prepared for anything, because you are coming back from injury," Liriano said after his outing. "It's one of those things. I'm trying to hit my spots, take it easy and not worry if they are hitting them." On a strict pitch count, Liriano retired neither of the two batters he faced in the third before being pulled. He threw a total of 53 pitches, only 28 of them for strikes. The inconsistency was a result, the left-hander said, of being unable to command his fastball and slider. "I was missing my spot all the time," Liriano said. "I was behind the hitter. And I couldn't hit my spot when I wanted to. I had to throw whatever they wanted to hit." Liriano's inability to spot all of his pitches could have been due, in part, to a change in his effort level on Wednesday. For most of the spring, Liriano has said that's he's been throwing at about "80 percent." That number rose to "90-95 percent" in this start, although Liriano didn't start to let loose with his pitches until late in his outing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff noticed a difference in the way Liriano was throwing when he came out for the third inning. Despite Liriano walking Kevin Youkilis and gaving up a double to David Ortiz in that inning, Gardenhire said the pitcher was finally allowing himself to fully extend through his throwing motion. "To the last couple hitters, he really threw some balls -- whether they were hit or not, it didn't matter," Gardenhire said. "He actually let some go and that's fun to see."
The Twins' biggest concern heading into this spring was whether Liriano would trust that he's healthy enough to let loose on all of his pitches. His tentativeness early in Wednesday's outing seemed to confirm that fear, but it was Liriano's finish that had the coaching staff encouraged he might be slowly moving past that."The only thing I told him after the game was, 'You really started cutting lose there at the end. You feel fine, right?'" pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He said, 'I feel great.' I told him, 'That's showing you something. You're cutting it loose and you still feel fine.' Hopefully, that's going to move it forward now." Liriano said he's no longer concerned about his health, but rather getting the feel back on all of his pitches. The one pitch Liriano did appear to have control over Wednesday was his changeup, a pitch he's worked very hard to perfect during his 15-month layoff following the surgery. While his devastating slider still isn't completely back to form, Liriano said he threw more in this outing than he had in any session so far this spring. There were a few glimpses of that dominant slider of old when the Liriano threw a couple to Ortiz before his double in the third and the southpaw struck out J.D. Drew on one to start the second. After the outing, the consensus was that Liriano still has a way to go in his return. But for the Twins, the ups and downs are just all part of the process of trying to get Liriano back to form. "You can see he's a little behind," Gardenhire said. ""He's going to have those moments where it's going to be a little interesting out there. He hasn't pitched for a long time. I think you are going to see some good ones and some bad ones." "But it's all about him pitching and getting innings. He finally let it go today at the end and that was better. Now we just work on it from there."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.