Liriano looms as Tigers' best chance to avoid August trade shutout

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
There is some interest from other teams in Tigers left-handed starter Francisco Liriano.

New York — More than a typical Tigers-Yankees duel was at stake heading into Thursday evening’s series opener at Yankee Stadium.

The 2018 trade deadline for adding waiver-approved, playoff-eligible players is midnight Friday, and on Thursday night the Tigers, according to a source close to the team, possessed only one potential trade chip: Francisco Liriano.

Liriano had at least one team interested, the source said, but that any serious appetite would depend upon Liriano’s start Thursday and how he might fare with his customary challenge, the strike zone.

He was fine, at least early in Thursday's game, which the Tigers won, 8-7, thanks to ninth-inning home runs from Victor Martinez and Niko Goodrum.

Liriano had a nearly spotless first two innings, allowing only a bloop single on 25 pitches, with one strikeout and four ground-ball outs.

He slipped in the third, fourth and fifth innings and finished the night with a stint of 4-1/3 innings. He was socked for seven hits, five runs (four earned), while striking out two and walking two.

He remains a bullpen option for a contender, especially when left-handed hitters are batting .138 against him in 2018.

Liriano has had problems otherwise. He has a steadily ascending ERA in 2018, which began with a 3.38 mark in April and had risen to 6.88 in August ahead of Thursday's tart. He is at 4.82 for 2018 and, more disturbingly, walks 5.3 batters per nine innings versus seven strikeouts.

The Tigers signed Liriano in March and looked early this season as if they might have gotten a $4-million steal. A pitcher who turns 35 in October brought 12 seasons of big-league experience and an arm that could still sling a 94-mph fastball backed by his cunning slider and change-up.

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But walks began to mount as the season deepened, all as right-handed batters increasingly teed off.

The Tigers as of Thursday night had not found shoppers for any other players, the source said.

Nick Castellanos confirmed some time ago that teams were flush with outfielders and bats that precluded him from drawing any serious interest. Shane Greene, the team’s closer, is believed to have had browsers eyeing him. But a waiver-claim is understood to have been made by a team not interested in dealing for Greene but intent on blocking his move to another club.

Such are August’s trade machinations.

It must be remembered the Tigers were pitching a trade-deadline shutout a year ago when teams shied away from various players the Tigers were aching to discuss.

That changed abruptly on deadline day when the Angels grabbed Justin Upton and, more dramatically, when the Astros made a late inquiry on Justin Verlander and snared him with veritable seconds to go before the clock struck 12.

The Tigers wanted deeply this summer to make as many deals as possible when the traditional shopping season, July, arrived and teams were free to make deals minus waiver-wire entanglements.

They found only one July partner: the Indians, who sent them prospect shortstop Willi Castro as payment for outfielder Leonys Martin.

They did, however, manage a few days later to wriggle Mike Fiers through the waiver labyrinth at which time they sent him to the A’s in a swap for two players to be named later, one of which has already arrived: reliever Nolan Blackwood.

It looked Thursday as if their last, best hope for a meaningful deal ahead of the offseason was Liriano.