April 28, 2011
It was a frigid night at Target Field on Wednesday, with a game-time temperature of 40 degrees, flurries in the middle innings, players huddling around dugout fires, etc.
In such conditions, we often think that pitchers have an edge, but that was clearly not the case for Minnesota's Francisco Liriano(notes). Here's the way he opened the first inning against the Rays, via the box score play-by-play:
-S. Fuld doubled to right
-J. Damon singled to shallow center, S. Fuld scored
-BJ Upton(notes) doubled to shallow left, J. Damon to third
-B. Zobrist tripled to deep right center, J. Damon and BJ Upton scored
-S. Rodriguez singled to left center, B. Zobrist scored
Tampa Bay sent nine men to the plate in the inning and Liriano fell behind all but one of them, throwing 40 pitches in the process. He managed to escape the second and third innings without allowing additional damage, but then he gave up a single and a pair of walks to begin the fourth, and was finally pulled.
This was his final stat line: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 4 Ks.
That mess raised Liriano's season ERA to 9.13 and his WHIP to 1.90. He's allowed seven earned runs in two of his last three starts, and he's walked as many batters as he's struck out this year (18). There are no simple explanations for his problems, either. Liriano's velocity was just fine on Wednesday — he hit 94 mph in the first inning, during the Rays' initial assault. Liriano's control has obviously been disastrous, and Ron Gardenhire has reportedly questioned his confidence.
Following the loss to Tampa Bay, Liriano chose to talk about the wintry conditions:
Liriano said confidence was not a problem. Instead, he said he missed spots and struggled with the cold weather.
"I didn't feel the ball in my hand the first inning,'' he said. "I just tried to grab the ball and go quick to the plate and see if I got loose. It just didn't happen.''
Liriano has taken the loss in seven of his last eight starts, dating back to last season, and he hasn't completed seven innings in any appearance since Sept. 7. It's way past time to be concerned.
Gardenhire has made noises this season about Liriano learning to "pitch to contact" — which seems absurd, because we're talking about a guy who can actually pitch to no-contact — so perhaps the lefty was simply executing his manager's plan. And Liriano coaxes plenty of grounders, so the pitch-to-contact thing may accidentally work out someday ... but it didn't on Wednesday, and it won't when control is an issue.
I'm normally all about buying-low on struggling stars, but I don't own many shares of Liriano right now and I'd like to keep it that way. (Unless someone is willing to simply hand him over, at little or no cost). We're not simply looking at one or two rough starts. But the radar readings look OK, at least for April, as do the batted-ball rates. Basically, we can't embrace him, can't write him off. His next three starts will likely be at Chicago, then at Boston, then vs. Toronto. Do you trust him in any of those appearances? Nope, me neither. So we bench and wait.
If you're buying, please make the case in comments, following a few light, refreshing fantasy bullets...
• OK, just look at this ridiculous [profane] Cliff Pennington "triple" that led to a loss for Angels closer Jordan Walden(notes). Shoulda been caught. Sometimes, we just don't get the breaks. No need to fret about Walden. Brian Fuentes(notes) blew the save for Oakland, but snagged a completely undeserved win. Brad Ziegler(notes) then protected a one-run lead in the tenth inning, getting three ground ball outs. Bah.
• Bartolo Colon(notes), delightfully described by the AP as "the husky right-hander" (which needs to be tattooed on Colon's arm, like, yesterday), was excellent on Wednesday night, mowing down the White Sox over eight innings. He struck out six batters, walked one, and allowed just one run. Colon was hitting the mid-90s in the late innings, just like old times. Check out the post-game praise from Chicago's Mark Buehrle(notes):
"It's the best I've ever seen him throw," Buehrle said. "He's always got that movement, but velocity-wise and the pitches he was throwing, they were pretty much unhittable pitches."
That's maybe not entirely true, since the Sox managed to get seven hits. Nonetheless, Colon was terrific, and he's won back-to-back starts. He'll double-dip next week, facing the Tigers and Rangers. Not an ideal two-start week, but Colon is now cleared for fantasy spot duty.
• The Seattle Mariners scored 10 runs in a nine inning game, against a major league opponent. I did not think that was possible, but here's the box score. Those things don't lie. Justin Smoak(notes) did much of the damage, going 2-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs. He's gone deep in his last three games and he's now hitting .302/.408/.571, yet he's only owned in 21 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Worth a test drive. Erik Bedard(notes) picked up his first win since maybe 2005, allowing just one run and five hits over seven innings.
• In Pittsburgh, we had a pitching match-up between preseason sleepers who'd been almost completely worthless until this week. James McDonald(notes) edged Madison Bumgarner(notes), as both delivered useful lines. Bumgarner's start was particularly promising, as he struck out seven batters, yielding just one run, five hits and one walk. McDonald continues to issue free passes (4 BB on Wednesday), but the Giants managed only four hits against him, all singles. For the season, McDonald has actually walked more batters than he's struck out (16, 15), which is a little frightening, but he'll get two friendly starts next week: at San Diego, vs. Houston.
Morales' inability to run 100 percent and make the necessary cuts and turns on the bases is keeping him from returning even though he has had no trouble swinging the bat and has been able to field ground balls at first base.
• Mitchell Boggs(notes) was unavailable for the Cards on Wednesday, so rookie Eduardo Sanchez(notes) converted a save opportunity ... barely. He ran into trouble for the first time this season, allowing two runs and three hits (two of which went for extra-bases), but he struck out Hunter Pence(notes) to end the game. Jason Motte(notes) was reportedly warming in the 'pen. Former closer Ryan Franklin(notes) had already pitched, badly (0.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER). Kyle Lohse(notes) won his fourth straight start for the Cards, extending his scoreless innings streak in the process. He'll get the Marlins and Brewers next week, in St. Louis.
Photos via US Presswire