Spring Swing: An up-close view of Francisco Liriano at work


'Duk was in the Grapefruit League this week as part of Big League Stew's Spring Swing. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter for more spring training fun.

FT. MYERS, Fla. — As I've written before, one of the real pleasures of a spring swing is the chance to see a top major league pitcher in a more intimate setting than usual.

On Friday, that opportunity came on one of the back fields at the Minnesota Twins' spring training complex as Francisco Liriano got his first start of 2011. The lefty has been battling some soreness in his left shoulder and facing a minor league lineup from the Tampa Bay Rays away from the spotlight of Hammond Stadium was a preferable way for Liriano to get back into the swing of things. {YSP:MORE}

That's not to say that the batboys plucked from a nearby game of catch were the only witnesses to Liriano's 37 pitches over two innings of work. The Pony League-type field was surrounded by every Twins beat writer and a good number of vacationing Minnesotans waiting for the regular game to start over on the big diamond.

My vantage point was from just to the right of home plate and it's hard to describe how cool it is to see a big league ace in a high school setting. The sense you get of their talent is much better than you ever get in the press box, or even in a good seat at a major league ballpark. Everything is better times 1,000: Listening to the velocity, seeing the spin, reading the pitcher's face for a mood that changes by the pitch.

Hearing a baseball smack with a thud against the muscles in a batter's back:

The pitchers are back there for a reason, so you're never going to catch them on their best day. Like Liriano, perhaps they're just coming back from an injury. Or maybe they've been working on things and want to throw 40 sliders in a row.

Either way, you're rarely going to see them at the peak of their talents. On Friday, I watched as Liriano struggled through his appearance, allowing one run and three hits, while walking two batters and hitting another one. Afterward, he talked just like he had struggled in a regular game: He had trouble locating, he was "overthrowing", he was just happy to be out there,  he doesn't feel like he's behind schedule, he wasn't distracted by all those trade rumors that have been surrounding him the past few weeks.

It was normal, but it was not.

Which, of course, is a big part of the allure in the first place.