Over his career, Francisco Liriano has proven to be an exceptionally volatile pitcher. One start, he’s dominating, generating numerous swings and misses. The next, he can’t find the strike zone.
In his last start against Cardinals, Liriano put together an outing which was typical of him last season, when he struck out 163 in 161 innings and posted a 3.02 ERA. In six innings he allowed zero runs, four hits, and struck out eight.
The success was a result of him being able to better locate his sinker, throwing it 41 times.
“I really liked the way he used his fastball,” Hurdle said. “There was increased percentage of fastball use, fastball velocity played both sides of the plate, late life and movement, and it set up all the swing and miss stuff.”
When he can’t locate his fastball, Liriano tends to shy away from it, instead throwing his breaking pitches at an atypical rate.
Two starts ago, against the Braves, he struggled to locate his sinker, throwing it only 24 times. He threw 25 changeups and 29 sliders in efforts to compensate for his fastball, as opposed to 11 changeups and 29 sliders against the Cardinals.
The results were as expected, as Liriano surrendered seven runs and ten hits in four innings.
“It’s command oriented,” Hurdle said. When he’s had command it’s lights out. So it all goes back to fastball command.”
These two starts are a microcosm of Liriano’s career. Not only is he ever-shifting from start to start, but year to year. By any standard, Liriano has never put together consecutive successful seasons.
Besides simply command, it’s Liriano’s command out of the stretch that has resulted in his unpredictability from year to year.
“If you go one layer deeper, it’s basically the ability to have command pitching out of the stretch,” Hurdle said. “Years he’s done that have been those years that jump out at you. The years that he’s struggled with his command out of the stretch are the years that the numbers are kind of disconnected.”
Yet, with Liriano coming off a successful outing and having a clean bill of health, Hurdle is encouraged.
“He’s been healthy the second half, and that’s another reason to have optimism,” Hurdle said.
Here is the lineup for today’s 1:35 PM game, with Liriano on the mound.