Wednesday, August 1, 2012
After surgery, Liriano learned how to pitch
By Ben Goessling, Special to ESPNChicago.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano's road back from Tommy John surgery wasn't as simple as some might think, given how prevalent the elbow operation has become for pitchers. After blazing through the American League in 2006 with a mid-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a wipeout slider he delivered with a violent motion, Liriano missed all of 2007 following surgery.
Francisco Liriano is a different pitcher today than he was in 2006 as a 22-year-old Twins phenom.
But the recovery didn't end there.
He started just 38 games in 2008 and 2009, dealing with the fact he wouldn't be able to mow through lineups like he once could. Liriano had to learn how to throw his fastball in the low 90s, locate his pitches more effectively and deal with getting hit -- a concept he rarely encountered during a 12-2 rookie season.
By now though, the new Chicago White Sox left-hander understands what works for him. He allowed two runs in six innings in his first start for Chicago on Tuesday night, helping the White Sox beat his former team. And for 22-year-old right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, whom the Cubs acquired in a trade with Atlanta, Liriano might provide a blueprint.
Like Liriano once did, Vizcaino is coming back from Tommy John surgery after getting to the majors with power stuff. Some pitchers are able to retain the same repertoire, but Liriano couldn't.
"I was throwing fine for a month (in 2007), and then I'd feel a little weird," Liriano said. "It took me a while to feel (like) myself, like I was back in the game."
His first -- and to this point, his only -- successful full season came in 2010, when he won 14 games, posted a 3.62 ERA and earned Cy Young Award votes. Liriano started Game 1 of the ALDS that season, but shoulder problems dragged him down last season. The Twins sent him to the bullpen in early May after he struggled this season. Still, Liriano has returned to post a 3.63 ERA in 12 starts since then, striking out 87 batters in 72 innings and holding hitters to a .199 batting average.
And once again, he looks comfortable with his stuff.
"I had to learn how to pitch," he said. "In '06, I was just throwing sliders and fastballs. The last couple years, I've had to learn to locate my spots since I don't throw as hard any more. ... Mentally, I don't think about it at all. Now, I have a lot of confidence in my pitches."