The Minnesota Twins' move to place Francisco Liriano back into the starting rotation said less about the left-hander's performance since being demoted to the bullpen than it does the general inadequacy of the rest of the team's starters, collectively the worst in baseball -- by a mile.
Heading into Sunday's series finale against the Detroit Tigers at Target Field, Minnesota's rotation had an ERA of 6.60, more than a run worse than runner-up Colorado (5.55) They also ranked dead last in hits (313) and home runs (49) allowed, and their combined 241 1/3 innings were fewer than all but two other teams.
So when the team announced Liriano was going back to the rotation, it was with a sigh. The night before, spot starter Anthony Swarzak gave up six runs on nine hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings of a 10-6 loss to Detroit.
"Things didn't go very well yesterday, so we're going to try Liriano again," was GM Terry Ryan's explanation.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The bullpen has been admirable this season, amassing a 3.83 ERA in 159 2/3 innings entering Sunday's 4-3 loss, more relief innings than all but one other team. Unfortunately for Minnesota, most of the bullpen's best work has come in lost causes because the starters are putting the team in an immediate hole.
"We've got to figure out a way to get deeper into games," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It sounds like a broken record, but it's just the way it is."
Liriano wasn't terrific in relief, but the Twins have penciled him in to start Wednesday in the finale of a three-game series against Oakland at Target Field. In six starts, Liriano was a remarkable 0-5 with a 9.45 earned-run average in 26 2/3 innings; in 7 1/3 innings of relief he was 0-0 with a 4.91 ERA.
"We just need Frankie," Gardenhire said. "We said we were going to give him a couple of shots out of the bullpen, let him clear his head a little bit, now we'll put him back out there and see if we get that pitcher. We'll see."