October 25, 2006


Despite what has been a surprising amount of optimism from Twins fans, I've been saying for the past couple months that I don't think time off will "fix" Francisco Liriano's arm problems. Sadly, it looks like I was right. The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, reports that "Liriano has left the team's year-round facility in Florida and is considering surgery after being unsatisfied with rehab" for his injured elbow.

Here's more of LEN3 from today's Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Liriano left Fort Myers, Fla., to travel to Miami, where Dr. John Uribe, one of several experts who have examined Liriano, is headquartered. While that might appear to be more than a coincidence, indications are that a final decision on surgery has not yet been made.

"Francisco continued to experience pain while taking part in a throwing session, and at this point, he felt it was necessary to re-evaluate his situation," said Gene Mato, one of Liriano's agents. "After conferring with the Twins and the different medical personnel that have evaluated him, he will determine whether or not he wants to have surgery in the next week or so."

The Twins were hoping Liriano could pitch in winterball and be ready for spring training after rehabbing in Florida, but that was wishful thinking from the outset. Instead, he made it just a few weeks before the pain became an issue again. Terry Ryan told LEN3 that he's still "hoping to get him back here and see how things go," which continues the disturbing trend of acting like it's something he can pitch through when Liriano can't make it more than a few throwing sessions without experiencing significant pain.

I realize surgery is always the last resort, but injuries like Liriano's simply don't heal on their own. Had Liriano gone under the knife when it became an option, he'd be over a month into his recovery and on track to pitch in the second half. Now, even if he elects to have the same surgery, he'll have to make quick progress to pitch at all in 2007. Of course, in the grand scheme of things 2007 matters little, but that's why the Twins should have taken the long-term approach with Liriano the entire time.

Regardless of how many times the Twins stick Liriano back on the mound after a little time off, this is not something that figures to go away. Rather than risk further damage by gambling on a non-surgical option, I think it's time to put aside any thoughts of Liriano being a part of the 2007 team and do what's best for his long-term career. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, evidence suggests that Tommy John surgery is as close to a speed bump on the road to greatness as you'll get in a situation like this.

As I wrote here the day after Liriano "heard something pop" in his elbow back in September: "Whether it's in spring training, next September or the second game of 2008, I look forward to seeing a healthy, dominant Liriano again." Here's hoping nothing the Twins have done in the six weeks since then have put that in further jeopardy.

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