Spring training | Francisco Liriano settles in as Pittsburgh Pirates' ace w/video

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 15, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Francisco Liriano sees himself as one of the guys and not "the guy."

The left-handed pitcher is probably the only person in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization who has that point of view.

Manager Clint Hurdle all but named him the Opening Day starter on Friday.

Liriano also could be called a miracle worker and an inspirational poster boy.

Though he didn't turn 30 until last October, Liriano has won two Comeback Player of The Year awards.

He was named the National League's Comeback Player of The Year last season after going 16-8 in 26 starts while striking out 166 batters. That followed his 2012 season, when he turned in an earned-run average of 5.34 and walked an average of five batters per nine innings for the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox.

Liriano was the American League's Comeback Player of The Year in 2010, when he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA and surrendered a league-low 0.4 home runs per nine innings after struggling to a 5-13 record and 5.80 ERA in 2009.

A.J. Burnett, the Pirates' workhorse the past two seasons, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies this week leaving Liriano Pittsburgh's de facto ace.

But Liriano put up better numbers than Burnett last year and threw 161 innings, the second-highest on the team despite not pitching until May 11. Burnett was 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings.

"No I don't consider myself that (the ace). We have great pitchers, and I am just trying to fit in well with everybody and do my job," Liriano said. "I was surprised he (Burnett) was not here. He was a good teammate, but it's business. We have a good bunch of guys; we have Wandy (Rodriguez) healthy now. We just got to go out there and play with what we got."

A lot has been made of Burnett's leadership in the clubhouse. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage describes Liriano as a silent type of leader who can have the same effect, particularly on young pitchers.

"I expect Frankie to be Frankie. He goes out there and competes," Searage said. "He will do things in the outfield or on the bench and will lead by his actions on the mound. He has helped out not only because he is Latin, but American pitchers go to him also because he is very approachable and knowledgeable."

Liriano's biggest concern is his health. He suffered an injury to his non-throwing arm last year after signing with the Pirates. It cost him some money, and he spent a brief time in the minors.

"Coming into spring this year is a great feeling. Last year, I came in with an injury and now I am healthy," Liriano said. "It's a lot different, and I am looking forward to Opening Day and trying to get ready for the season. My goal is to stay healthy the whole year and try to win 20 at least."

The Pirates also were pleased to learn that newly acquired pitcher Edinson Volquez and Liriano have some history together from Little League baseball.

"I wasn't aware of that until we did some digging, but it should help. Volquez will work In Liriano's group during spring, which I think will be a benefit to him," Hurdle said.

Liriano is grateful to the Pirates for the faith they showed in him last year even after he was injured.

"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," Liriano said. "There are good people here and great teammates. They give you a lot of confidence."

Liriano went into last season with a goal of reducing the number of walks he issued. He succeeded, allowing 63 compared to the 87 he gave up in 2012 and 75 the previous year.

His 161 innings were the second-highest of his career despite missing time because of his injury.

"I wanted to come to the National League and try something different," Liriano said. "I wanted to find my old self, the one that was consistent and struck out a lot of people."

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