The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 11, 2009

Thoughts about Saturday's pitchers

Francisco Liriano, as I've suggested before, is an oddity on the Twins staff. He simply does not have the command of the fastball we expect from Minnesota pitchers, and he never has. On Saturday, he threw 85 pitches, just 48 of them for strikes. A more tyical (for the Twins) ratio of 67% strikes would have been 57 strikes, and while the difference of nine might not seem like much, it is significant.

Liriano could get away with weak fastball command in 2006 because his slider was so overwhelming, but that is no longer the case, and probably never will be again. The Twins are touting his changeup, but unless and until he masters command of the fastball, Liriano's change is not going to be the weapon it is for Johan Santana.

* Last year's AL Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee, is off to a miserable start. It's only two games, but his ERA is 9.90. Worse, his command/control is absent. On Saturday, he walked four men in five innings and threw 45 balls to 57 strikes — essentially the same problem as Liriano.

Lee's case is different from Liriano. Lee had the command last season. But he thew about 78 more innings in 2008 than he did in 2007 (majors and minors combined). That kind of workload increase frequently precedes a collapse of performance.

*A similar case may well be feared with Cole Hamels, the Phillies star. His regular season workload went up 44 innings in 2008 — but then he added another 35 innings in October.

But the Phillies won it all — something they wouldn't have done without him — and I doubt very much that he or anybody connected with the Phils would change that. Still, this trend of postseason aces falling apart the next season is disturbing, and yet another reason for me to dislike the wild card era and the extra round of playoff games it adds.

e-mail Edward Thoma