April 27, 2008

Twins Notes: Liriano, More Liriano, Korecky, and Waldrop

  • Francisco Liriano struggled for much of spring training before posting a 6.75 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in a pair of minor-league starts, at which point Triple-A manager Stan Cliburn suggested that he needed more time to regain his pre-surgery form before returning to Minnesota:
    I would say maybe one more start here to get a little bit more command, maybe build a little bit more strength. That would be my call. Of course, I know it's going to be a group decision. His health is good. His strength is good. His mound presence is good. He just pitched backwards, and maybe he just wanted to find out if he could use all his pitches.

    Instead, the Twins called up Liriano shortly after Cliburn uttered those words and stuck him right back into the rotation. He looked shaky in his first two starts and then completely fell apart in his third outing Thursday against the A's, allowing six runs on five hits and three walks without making it out of the first inning. Liriano's first two post-surgery outings were recapped in plenty of detail here, and the third start featured the same decreased velocity and lack of command.

    After going 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA, 13 walks, and a .366 batting average against in three starts, his comeback was aborted Friday and Liriano was sent back to Triple-A. He rarely looked comfortable on the mound or capable of consistently getting big-league hitters out with the stuff he was working with, and Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III reports that Liriano will stay in Rochester "for a while." Here's what pitching coach Rick Anderson had to say about the three-start comeback:

    Confidence comes with success. 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.

    What Anderson said is true, but no amount of confidence is going to make up for Liriano's missing velocity. General manager Bill Smith said Friday that "there's no harm done" in calling up Liriano when the Twins did, but Anderson's quote about his current lack of confidence may contradict that somewhat. Smith also admitted that the Twins rushed Liriano's return timetable "just a bit" due to Kevin Slowey's biceps injury, which seems incredibly short-sighted.

    "I think we did the right thing," Smith said. "Maybe the best thing that will come out of this is everyone realizes he's not ready." Fair enough, but given how he pitched this spring and during his abbreviated stay in the minors, it's unclear exactly what made the Twins think that Liriano would have success in the majors to begin with. Of course, my MinnPost colleague Pat Borzi recently wrote that the Twins may have wanted Liriano in the majors just to keep an eye on him regardless of his performance.

  • Given how Liriano pitched during his three-start comeback, it's interesting to look back on offseason reports about his status. Early offseason updates included quotes like "everything is perfect" and "there are no problems at all." In February, as spring training neared, Ron Gardenhire said that Liriano was "letting it fly" while throwing at the Twins' academy in the Dominican Republic: "He threw two innings at the academy and they said he was averaging 93 and throwing it up to 96. Free and easy."

    It seems pretty obvious now that those reports were completely false, because Liriano averaged 88-91 miles per hour with his fastball this month, reached 93 MPH on maybe a handful of pitches in three starts, and never came anywhere close to "throwing it up to 96" at any point. Nearly every report about Liriano prior to his arrival at spring training noted that he was looking good and throwing as hard as ever, which is astounding given what we know now.

  • Interestingly, a rare winter report suggesting that Liriano wasn't looking anything like the pitcher from 2006 came via Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News. In the middle of a long column covering a variety of subjects, Ringolsby wrote the following one-sentence note about Liriano under the heading "overheard": "Left-hander Francisco Liriano, 24, is rehabbing from the reconstructive left elbow surgery he underwent a year ago, and it appears he will not be ready until midseason."

    That got my dander up at the time, because it differed dramatically from every other Liriano report, yet Ringolsby didn't see fit to expand upon his note. My response here opined that the Liriano information "would be worthy of more than a one-line note buried midway through Ringolsby's column if it was based on serious reporting" and suggested that "if Ringolsby has solid information about Liriano being behind schedule, it'd be nice to engage in a little journalism by sharing with the rest of the class."

    For the most part my feelings on Ringolsby's report haven't changed. It seemed to me that "he will not be ready until midseason" implied that Liriano wouldn't pitch until then, let alone pitch multiple times in April. Beyond that, Ringolsby dropping that little tidbit into the middle of a column without going into any further detail still seems odd to me, but while engaging in an extremely long, testy e-mail discussion with me over the past few weeks Ringolsby explained that his non-Rockies coverage is limited.

    Of course, the column that the Liriano note appeared in contained 1,300 words of non-Rockies content, so Ringolsby certainly could have offered up another sentence or two if he felt that the news he was passing along had major importance. Whatever the case, my dismissal of Ringolsby's note was due partly to it differing from what later proved to be totally inaccurate reports, making the whole situation an interesting reminder not to believe everything you read regardless of the source (among other things).

  • Because a fifth starter won't be required for a while thanks to multiple off days, the Twins replaced Liriano on the roster with reliever Bobby Korecky. He didn't come close to cracking my annual ranking of the Twins' top 40 prospects, but Korecky has a chance to carve out a decent MLB career as a middle reliever. Originally taken by the Phillies in the 19th round of the 2002 draft, the Twins acquired Korecky along with Carlos Silva and Nick Punto in exchange for Eric Milton back in December of 2003.

    He's spent parts of three seasons at Triple-A, posting a 3.31 ERA and 111-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 149.1 total innings. Korecky has been a closer in the minors, saving 110 career games, but he's already 28 years old and his low strikeout rate combined with mediocre control make it unlikely that he'll succeed as a late-inning option in the majors. With that said, Korecky has a 3.04 ERA in 365 pro innings and induces a high percentage of ground balls, so a middle-relief gig seems doable.

  • After blowing a 5-0 lead and losing in extra innings Friday, Gardenhire said: "We deserved to lose that game." We're in agreement, except Gardenhire wasn't talking about his misguided, oft-repeated decision to leave the team's best pitcher unused in the bullpen for 10 innings while lesser relievers combine to face 16 batters and allow the game-winning run. Saving Joe Nathan for a save situation that never arrives and then needing to "get him work" in a blowout days later is a Gardenhire tradition.
  • Johan Santana is off to a nice start with the Mets, posting a 3.12 ERA, 32-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .209 opponent's batting average in 34.2 innings spread over five starts. He's also smacked three doubles, which gives him one fewer extra-base hit than Delmon Young, in 87 fewer plate appearances. For his career, Santana has now hit .250/.283/.386 in 46 trips to the plate. As a team, the Twins have hit a combined .263/.303/.364 this year, for a slightly lower OPS than Santana's career mark.
  • After being benched Wednesday and called "not an MLB-caliber hitter at this stage of his career, let alone an MLB-caliber leadoff man" in this space Thursday, Carlos Gomez led off that night's game with a homer and collected four hits over his next seven at-bats. Unfortunately, that simply raised his overall hitting line to a still-horrible .255/.271/.362 and he exited Friday's game with a calf injury that kept him out of action for both weekend games.
  • Thanks to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's decision to bring back LEN3's weekly minor-league report after a long hiatus, there's news of Kyle Waldrop being out for the season following shoulder surgery. Waldrop was a first-round pick back in 2004 and many people considered him one of the team's top pitching prospects initially, but he ranked just 32nd on my list of the Twins' top 40 prospects heading into the season. Here's part of my write-up on Waldrop, from back in February:
    The closer he's gotten to the majors the more difficult it's been for Waldrop to succeed on that mediocre stuff, which is evident by his sub par strikeout rates and the deterioration of his once-great control. With that said, it's important to note that he's only 22 years old despite logging over 500 pro innings already and has induced two ground balls for every fly ball over the past two seasons, which shows that he's still capable of having a solid big-league career as a fourth or fifth starter.

    It's possible that a year of lost development time won't hurt Waldrop's long-term outlook as much as it would an elite pitching prospect, because he's relatively polished and seemingly doesn't have a ton of projection remaining. Of course, he'll have to come back from the surgery first and that's certainly no sure thing. Along with Waldrop's season-ending shoulder injury, LEN3 reports that No. 13 prospect Deibinson Romero will miss 3-4 weeks following surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee.

  • Analyzing pitching mechanics is a growing trend among bloggers and there are a pair of new entries about Twins pitchers that are worth checking out. Kyle Boddy of Driveline Mechanics examines Nick Blackburn's delivery, while Kiley McDaniel of Saber-Scouting looks at Deolis Guerra's form.
  • Speaking Guerra, he was part of an eclectic mix of pitchers who worked a game at high Single-A Fort Myers last weekend:
                         IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    Kevin Slowey 3.0 1 1 1 1 5 1
    Deolis Guerra 4.0 4 3 2 2 3 1
    Danny Graves 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0
    Tim Lahey 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0

    Making his way back from a strained biceps, Slowey began his rehab assignment by starting the game and tossed three solid innings. Guerra came on in relief and worked four innings to pick up the win. Danny Graves, who was an All-Star closer with the Reds and is now little more than minor-league filler at the age of 33, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. And Tim Lahey, who was briefly lost via the Rule 5 draft before returning to the organization earlier this month, closed things out.

  • Livan Hernandez: 5.05 ERA. It was fun while it lasted, at least.

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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