Liriano shows electric stuff in debut
MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that all the odd introductions are over, and his awkward first start as a visitor in his former home is behind him, perhaps Francisco Liriano can relax. That was always what dictated whether he'd be successful in Minnesota, and as he came out of the bullpen at Target Field on Tuesday night, he took a hearty helping of jitters with him.
"I was nervous inside," he said. "I was probably trying to overthrow the first couple innings. I was trying to calm myself down, trying to do my job, like I said before, trying to be part of the team."
Even with the nerves, though, Liriano showed the White Sox why he could be such a dynamic addition to their rotation in the final two months of the season. He struck out eight batters in six innings against the Twins, ending the night with a no-decision and returning to a victorious clubhouse after the catcher for whom he was once traded -- A.J. Pierzynski -- swatted a two-run homer to right, making the White Sox's 4-3 win over Minnesota a momentous night for former Twins.
But the White Sox have bigger opponents to deal with than their fourth-place division rivals, and Liriano -- who came to the team in a trade on Saturday -- could be the piece that helps them get to the postseason. He had his wipeout slider working on Tuesday night, adding a strong changeup and his low-90s fastball. Aside from a sixth inning in which the Twins scored two runs on balls they couldn't hit out of the infield, Liriano kept Minnesota scoreless.
"We got some situations where maybe if we could have come up with a big hit off him or laid off a couple of pitches," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I will tell you this: Our hitters were coming back in saying, ‘He is nasty.’ We played behind him, but facing him, our hitters were saying he threw some balls that were disappearing tonight. Tip your hat to him."
Liriano threw 65 strikes in 113 pitches, the most he's thrown in a game since he no-hit the White Sox on May 3, 2011. Since he returned from the Twins' bullpen in late May, the left-hander has been at his most effective when he's pumped the ball over the plate, staying tall through his delivery and generating downward movement on his fastball. That's what Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson had told him to do, and it was White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper's first piece of advice to him, too.
And in the end, for all Cooper had said about seeing some changes he could make with Liriano's delivery, the simple truth is this: When the left-hander doesn't beat himself, he's tough to stop.
"I know facing him, the games he throws it over the plate, especially as a left-handed hitter, you feel like you're helpless out there," Pierzynski said. "After the game, he apologized to me for being wild, and I was like, 'Dude, you're fine. You were great. Don't apologize to me.' ... I know it's fun to see someone else try to hit that slider."
That's no longer the White Sox's problem, and they saw on Tuesday night what an asset a confident, focused Liriano can be -- even if they didn't get the whole package yet.
"It was a different feeling, I'm sure, for him, since he'd never been on this side," Pierzynski said. "I'm happy that he got the first night away. Now he can settle in and just go back to normal."