'Question marks' lead Tigers to sign Francisco Liriano

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — General manager Al Avila has always left the door open to signing another veteran pitcher.

He made his move Friday, signing veteran Francisco Liriano to a one-year, $4 million, Major League contract.

“We felt we needed another pitcher for our depth,” Avila said after the Tigers 3-1 loss to the Yankees in the Grapefruit League opener. “He told us he would like to start, but if we needed him to work out of the bullpen, he would do that also. This is really good for us to get another guy with experience who can start and work out of the bullpen if we need.”

The Tigers’ starting pitching depth is, and has been, thin. Plus, three of the pitchers competing for rotation spots have minor-league options remaining — Daniel Norris, Buck Farmer and Ryan Carpenter – so there is some roster flexibility.

Also, Jordan Zimmermann is trying to regain his form after two injury-plagued seasons and Mike Fiers, whom they signed to a one-year, $6 million deal, is also looking for a bounce-back year.

“We do have some question marks,” Avila said. “We’ve always felt we needed more depth to start the season on the right foot and hopefully to end on the right foot. And to give our young guys more time to develop.”

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Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and bullpen coach Rick Anderson are certainly familiar with Liriano. They brought him to the big leagues with the Twins and he pitched seven seasons there. Anderson was the Twins pitching coach.

“I saw him last year in Houston and talked to him at the end of the year,” said Gardenhire, who was consulted by Avila and strongly endorsed the signing. “He said he was feeling good. He can go a lot of different ways — starting or out of the bullpen — and he’s got filthy stuff. He can throw that slider all day long and people keeping swinging and missing.

“His fastball is good enough and he’s a great kid. Fantastic. He will fit in great here. He’s a worker and they are going to love him here. He’s not a loud guy by any means, but he’s a really good guy.”

At 34, though, Liriano is coming off two rough seasons. Although his fastball velocity remained firm (92 mph), his command was shaky. Moving from Pittsburgh to Toronto and to Houston, he posted a 5.05 ERA and 1.5 WHIP. His walks per nine innings were an untenable 4.8.

Still, the Astros saw enough in him to add him to their post-season roster and he pitched a scoreless inning in the ALCS and got two outs in the World Series.

Avila said he threw a bullpen for the Tigers scouts in Miami.

“He will be an addition and give us depth,” Gardenhire said. “You know you can never have enough depth and you always have to protect yourself that way. So bringing in a guy like Frankie is fantastic and I tip my cap to Al for getting this done.

“He will do whatever we need. His preference will be to start, we know that. And when he’s going along good he can really dominate a baseball team. We’ll just have to see how this shakes out.”

To make room for Liriano on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated for assignment left-hander Jairo Labourt.