Lakeland, Fla. – The off-season was uncommonly disquieting for Francisco Liriano. Despite his creditable 12-year big-league resume, he was stuck in the worst kind of free agent limbo.
Thirty-four years old, coming off two straight down seasons and trying to find work in a glacier-paced market – a unholy trifecta.
“It was hard to stay at home and be patient,” said Liriano, whom the Tigers signed Friday for one year and $4 million. “Spring training is starting and you are sitting at home – it’s tough. It’s hard to be patient. But it all worked out the way I wanted it to.”
The Tigers offered him two things his other suitors did not – a legitimate shot at winning a spot in the starting rotation and a reunion with the manager and pitching coach that brought him to the big leagues.
“Just being with Gardy and all the people I know here,” Liriano said of manager Ron Gardenhire. “I feel that, playing with Gardy, I know him from before and I think it makes it easier for me…He knows what I can do and what I can’t do.”
Same for Rick Anderson. He was the Twins pitching coach when Liriano broke into the big leagues in 2005. He’s the Tigers bullpen coach now, but the two shared a hug and a few laughs on Friday when Liriano walked into the clubhouse at TigerTown for the first time.
“Love it,” Anderson said. “I was excited to see him. It’s great to have him here. He is a good one when he’s right. Hope we can get him right.”
Liriano pitched for two teams last season (Toronto and Houston) and never found his normal rhythm. He started 18 games and pitched in relief in 20 games. He also missed most of the month of May with a neck strain.
“At the beginning of the season I had some issue with my neck, so that was a good month, month and a half that I threw away,” he said. “I started a couple of games, didn’t go well and I got traded and I didn’t pitch much.
“I never got into a rhythm. I didn’t get a chance to pitch (much) in the second half.”
He wound up with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.6 WHIP, his worst since 2009. He also had a high. 4.8 walks-per-nine ratio.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Liriano said. “That was the good thing about it. I got a World Series ring.”
Liriano, used as a situational lefty by the Astros, allowed only one run in 10 appearances (5.2 innings) in September and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in the post-season.
“I’m anxious to see him again and see how far he’s come,” Anderson said. “I am sure over the years he’s learned a few things and matured a little bit as a pitcher – how to pitch, how to use his pitches.
“That was the thing when he first came into the big leagues – all he wanted to do was throw sliders. He didn’t trust his other stuff. Slowly but surely he started to use the fastball more and the change-up, and they are good pitches for him.”
One positive for Liriano, even at 34, he hasn’t lost any zip on his fastball. He threw mostly two-seam sinkers last season with an average velocity of 93.3 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. Opponents hit .311 off his fastball last season, but that was because he was throwing them in hitter’s counts too often.
“My arm feels great,” Liriano said. “I feel healthy and ready to go out and pitch…It’s important to me to come back from last year after not having a good year.”
He’s changed his workout program to avoid any recurrence of the neck pain.
“I did more stretching and lifting less weight,” he said. “I don’t know what it was last year, but when I got to Toronto, five guys had the same problem. I don’t know what it was. For me, I think it was working out too heavy.”
He’s already thrown three bullpens and was scheduled to throw his first with the Tigers on Saturday. Gardenhire expects it’ll be seven to 10 days before Liriano works in an exhibition game.
“We will stretch him out and get him ready to start and see where it ends up at the end of camp,” Gardenhire said. “But he’s a veteran, another arm that knows how to pitch. We needed that. That’s a good get and nice job by Al (Avila) and his staff.”