Friday, April 16, 2010

Franchise Liriano

If his first start this year was underwhelming —what with five walks in six innings — Francisco Liriano's second was overwhelming.

Seven innings of four-hit, eight-strikeout ball. Two strikes per three pitches. First-pitch strikes to 17 of the 27 men he faced.

And postgame talk of 2006 all over again.

The memory of 2006 — and the vision of Liriano someday returning to that level of performance — is why the Twins appear never to have seriously considered shifting him to the bullpen after his ligament replacement surgery. At least not until Joe Nathan went down this spring.

Thursday's game suggested that the memory of 2006 may indeed be more than an illusion, suggested it strongly enough to me to start wondering how (or if) the Twins will try to limit his innings.

He pitched just less than 200 innings in 2009 (combining majors and minors but excluding winter ball and spring training), less than 140 last season. If he stays effective and healthy, he should easily zoom past both those marks this year —and that's not taking October into account.

Considering such concerns is probably premature. Certainly it's better to worry about overusing a dominant pitcher than to worry about correcting a flawed one.

It's just another factor to watch, especially for an organization that prides itself on protecting the pitcher.

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