Francisco Liriano Looks Sharp in Rehab Start; Contreras Shows Good Stuff
Francisco Liriano and Jose Contreras made rehab starts for the Bradenton Marauders tonight, combining for five innings on the road against Jupiter. Below are the recaps for each pitcher.
When I saw Liriano last week in a simulated game his stuff looked great at times, but he struggled with his control in the second inning. He didn’t have that problem tonight. Liriano started off strong, striking out two in the first inning and throwing a 93-94 MPH four-seam fastball. His four-seam had late arm side cutting movement. He also threw a two-seam fastball which looked more like a sinker due to its late drop off the table toward the plate. Liriano got a strikeout swinging on an 89 MPH two-seamer tonight. He also threw a slider and a changeup, which were both in the mid-80s.
The second and third innings went almost exactly like the first inning. Liriano struck out two batters per inning, finishing his outing with three perfect innings pitched and six strikeouts. His last pitch was an 84 MPH slider for a swinging strikeout — his sixth of the evening.
Liriano didn’t have the problems that he had in his last outing. His control was excellent, and his results weren’t completely due to going up against a high-A lineup. His stuff looked sharp, and he was pounding the strike zone with all of his pitches. Liriano was scheduled to go three innings and 45 pitches tonight. He finished so quickly that he had to go to the bullpen after his outing and throw some extra pitches. In his next outing he should be stretched out to four innings and around 65 pitches. It’s too early to tell how many outings he is away from returning to the majors, but if he keeps pitching like tonight, the Pirates will get a pitcher closer to the old Francisco Liriano, rather than the 2011-2012 versions.
I saw Contreras throw two innings last week on the same day that Liriano threw. Just like Liriano, Contreras had a strong first inning and a rough second inning. His first inning last week was sharp, with dominant stuff highlighted by his 91-93 MPH fork ball. His second inning featured shaky command, and he was rolled due to his pitch count.
Tonight it was similar. Contreras gave up a walk in the first inning, but struck out a batter and got two fly outs to finish off the first. He was mostly working off the fork ball, which was again 91-93 MPH and had a ton of downward movement. He also mixed in a mid-to-upper 70s curveball when he was ahead in the count.
The second inning for Contreras was rough. He gave up a leadoff single that fell in shallow center field. That was followed by a hit batter, and a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners over. Contreras gave up a hard hit double to deep center, which tailed to the right, just out of reach from Gregory Polanco’s glove. That brought in both runners. Contreras struck out the next batter, then got a ground out to get out of the inning. Before the double his command was off, and he was all over the place. He settled down after the double, and his fork ball once again looked sharp.
Both times I’ve seen Contreras he looked great in the first, and struggled in his second inning. Considering that the Pirates would only need him as a one inning reliever, that’s not a big problem. Liriano is on a Major League rehab assignment, but Contreras is officially on the Marauders’ roster. With Liriano, the return to the majors depends on how quickly he can get stretched out. With Contreras it’s all about when he’s ready. The Pirates can also take their time with him. They can keep him in the minors until June 1st, at which point he can demand his release. If he doesn’t demand his release by then, they’d have to pay him a $100,000 bonus to retain him in the minors. I could see Contreras coming up to help the bullpen before that point.