Though his velocity is still not quite where it was last year, Francisco Liriano took a major step forward last night against the Mariners, striking out 9 batters while only walking one. Granted, yes, it was the Mariners, whose offense is pretty much triple-A level, but the major takeaway I'm seeing is that Liriano's control was improved, which really is the key to his success. Here are a few other highlights:
- 65% of his pitches were strikes (72/110)
- He threw first pitch strikes to 17 out of 26 batters-faced
- He tallied 18 swinging strikes (16.3%) which is a vast improvement over the 10.9 swinging strike percentage he has averaged so far this year
- Induced 7 groundball outs vs. 5 flyball outs which means he was keeping his pitches down
Over his last three starts, Liriano has a no-hitter, a 3-hitter (last night) and one dud game in which he was pulled early due to illness. His ERA over 19 innings so far in May is 2.37 compared to an April ERA of 9.13. I'll need to see a couple more quality starts to say for sure, but it looks like Liriano is slowly settling in and I think his start last night could be the start of a good run for him.
In other news, Joe Mauer is headed to Ft. Meyers for extended spring training which is a positive sign. Though no timetable has been set for his return, the fact that he is moving his rehab there suggests that he is getting much closer to playing in some minor league games. Jim Thome and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are also down at Ft. Meyers and by all accounts, both of them are progressing well...it would be a boon to the Twins offense to have all three of them return...hopefully they will all be back soon.
Michael Cuddyer is having himself a pretty good May so far. In 49 May at-bats, he is hitting .327/.400/.408 with a healthy 8:6 K:BB ratio. Meanwhile Danny Valencia's "season of regression" continues. After hitting just .217/.294/.315 in April, he has followed that up with an equally poor May (so far), hitting .220/.304/.340. Despite an excellent 18:16 K:BB ratio, Valencia simply isn't getting as "lucky" this year, watching his BABIP drop from .345 last year to .231 so far this season. Basically, for as lucky as he was last year, he has been equally unlucky so far this year...
This stretch in the Twins schedule might be a good place to turn things around. Tonight they start a two-game series at Oakland, then it's off to play 3 with the Arizona Diamondback (18-23), before coming home to play 3 more against the Mariners and Angels. After that the Twins have a slew of division games against Detroit, Cleveland and KC. Here's to hoping anyway...