Spring training | Pittsburgh Pirates take patient approach with recovering Francisco Liriano

Pirates take long view with recovering Liriano

adell@bradenton.comMarch 10, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Francisco Liriano got to say hello to a lot of old friends Saturday at McKechnie Field.

He would have rather pitched against the Minnesota Twins, his former teammates, but the Pittsburgh Pirates' new acquisition is just happy to be around the ballpark.

The left-hander spent eight seasons with the Twins, who visited Bradenton on Saturday and beat the Pirates 5-4 in a Grapefruit League game.

Liriano joined the Pirates to find a new beginning and the consistency that had him touted as super-prospect in 2005, when he led the minor leagues in strikeouts.

A lot has transpired since. The most unfortunate event occurred when he broke his right arm last month in what he describes as a freak accident at his home.

After surgery, he was in a cast for seven weeks, which has made his shoulders weak. He recently started throwing long toss and plans to start throwing off the mound Monday.

Liriano will not be ready for opening day and doesn't expect to pitch during spring training, but he still figures prominently in the Pirates' plans, which is why they gave him a two-year contract.

"I got home the night before I was supposed to go to Pittsburgh to sign and hit the door in my house when I was playing with my son. Ten minutes later, it was hurting. I went to the hospital, and they told me it was broken," Liriano said.

The 29-year-old was making preparations to sit out the season and rehab his arm, when the Pirates called and said they still wanted to sign him. They offered more than the Twins originally did, and Liriano jumped at the chance.

"I wanted to come to the National

League and try something different," Liriano said. "I want to find my old self, the one that was consistent and struck out a lot of people. It's frustrating because I've been hurt a couple of times the few years and I am getting tired of rehabbing."

The native of the Dominican Republic has had what could be called a decent career. But he hasn't been able to capture the magic that made him so special in his rookie season in 2006 with the Twins, when he was 12-3 with 144 strikeouts in 121 innings with a 2.16 ERA.

He sat out the 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and in '08 pitched 76 innings with 67 strikeouts while compiling a 3.91 ERA and 6-4 record.

The last four seasons had a lot of ups and downs. The Pirates still see a lot of promise in the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder and were impressed with his work last year when he played for Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox.

In 2010, Liriano went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA and showed his strikeout form, fanning 201 batters in 191.2 innings, but then he slipped again.

"I signed with Pittsburgh because I wanted to come over here and be more consistent and get my confidence back and go deeper into the games and pitch at least 200 innings " Liriano said. "There are good people here and great teammates. They give you a lot of confidence."

Liriano hopes to be pitching in a major league game around mid- or late April and isn't sure he will travel north when camp breaks. He is scheduled to start throwing in the bullpen this week and then graduate to throwing batting practice before he appears in a game.

When he gets healthy, Liriano will resume his search for his former identity.

"Some days last year, I was losing my two-seam too much, and I wasn't the guy that I used to be, not the sinker-type guy," Liriano said. "I am trying to get back to the four-seam and walk less guys and get ahead on the count because the two-seamers I can't locate as much."

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