Durable and dependable. Two adjectives that have not often been used to describe left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano throughout his career.
Liriano had Tommy John surgery at the end of 2006, and missed the entire 2007 season. Since his return from surgery, he has been able to pitch over 165 innings just once in seven seasons, and only made 30 starts one time – he made 31 starts in 2010.
Yes, most of Liriano’s trouble eating innings has stemmed from his inability to throw strikes. For example, in 2011 Liriano had a 5.09 ERA and walked 75 batters, and in 2012 it was more of the same when he posted a 5.34 ERA and walked 87 batters. He was moved to the bullpen at the end of both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
But even after the Pirates and Ray Searage/Jim Benedict fixed Liriano’s control problems in 2013, he still only was able to pitch 161 innings, due to breaking his right arm while playing with his children before the season. The injury caused him to miss April and half of May. Last season, Liriano strained his oblique and landed on the disabled list — missing much of June and July — and only pitched 162.1 innings. Although he was extremely effective in the 2013-2014 seasons, he still wasn’t a guy that teams could depend on to give them consistent innings.
This inconsistency could have played a role in Liriano receiving only a three-year contract worth $39 million dollars with the Pirates, which looks to be a bargain after each of his starts this year. As effective as he has been the past two seasons, teams would not justify giving up a first round pick as compensation for a pitcher that has been as volatile as Liriano has been in his career.
However, since Liriano returned from the oblique strain last July, he has not only been one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, but has also become one of the more dependable pitchers in the game.
Since Liriano’s DL stint last July, he has been a workhorse. Over the last calendar year, Liriano has made 32 starts and thrown 198.1 innings, which is good for the tenth-best in the National League. In that time, he has put up a 2.72 ERA and has struck out over a batter an inning.
This season, Liriano has thrown 108.1 innings, and is on pace to break the 200 innings mark for the first time in his 10-year career. In his 17 starts this season, he has pitched at least six innings in all but three starts, and has gone seven innings or more eight times, which has already exceeded the number of times he accomplished that last season.
“It would be big for me – it’s one of my goals,” Liriano said when I asked him about the possibility of eclipsing the 200 innings mark. “I’m trying to find a way to stay healthy and trying to go deep into games every fifth day.”
The Pirates have felt all along that Liriano was dependable despite his unpredictable history, and he’s proving them right.
“Well, he was dependable enough that we were able to bring him back and give him what we felt was a fair contract for a man that loves to work and loves to pitch,” Hurdle said tonight after Liriano’s strong six inning performance. “He’s comfortable here and we like having him in our rotation. He’s good for us and we feel we’re good for him.”
Over the past calendar year, durable and dependable seem to perfectly describe Liriano.