'It's tough': Liriano exits early, Twins clobber Tigers again

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Francisco Liriano wipes his face before leaving in the third inning on Thursday.

Minneapolis — It wasn’t that it was a showcase start for Francisco Liriano.          

Yes, he is a free agent this offseason and it was probably the last time he will wear the Old English D. But it was his 300th big-league start. He’s not exactly an unknown commodity. What he wanted to show, more than anything, was that he was healthy.

That didn’t go well.

Liriano left the game in the third inning of the Tigers' 9-3 loss to the Twins on Thursday after his lower back stiffened.

BOX SCORE: Twins 9, Tigers 3

"It's tough," said Liriano, who will be 35 in October. "This is not the way you want to finish the year. Especially when you are going to be a free agent. It's very disappointing. I tried to pitch through it, but it didn't get better.

"It was getting worse, so we decided to shut it down."

Liriano has pitched through the back issues on and off throughout the season. They forced him out of a game in Houston after just three innings and it took him several weeks to regain his form. That all but ruined his trade value at the trade deadline.

After starting the season strong (3-1, 3.38 through April), he spent nearly a month on the disabled list (from May 30 to June 23) with a hamstring injury. He wouldn’t earn another win until Sept. 4.

In four September starts before Thursday, though, he’d gone 2-2 with a 1.88 ERA, with opponents hitting .226 against him.

"You can't do anything about it, injuries are part of the game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But Frankie has been pitching a long time and he still has a good arm. He still gets it up there in the low-90s.

"He will have options. He can still pitch. He's got good stuff. He can still get people out at this level."

Gardenhire believes that even though Liriano made 26 starts this season, he may have more value on the open market as a reliever. Liriano didn't disagree.

"I am willing to do both," he said. "If they want me to start, I will start. But if they want me out of the bullpen, I will do that, too. As long as I find a job and keep playing the game."

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Liriano, who broke into the big leagues with Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson when they were with the Twins, said he would welcome a return engagement with the Tigers. 

The odds seem long against the Tigers bringing him back.

"I was up and down the whole year," Liriano said. "Whether it was one thing or another. Injuries. I tried to pitch through some things and it didn't work for me. It is what it is. Things happen for a reason. 

"I am thankful for being here this season. My goal was to make 30 starts, but injuries are part of the game." 

Liriano took a 3-0 lead into the third inning Thursday but gave up back-to-back doubles to Gregorio Petit and Joe Mauer. Then, with two outs, back-to-back walks. He was grimacing and clearly uncomfortable. Head athletic trainer Doug Teter came quickly to the mound.

"It was the back, and he was feeling it in his hip and then his side," Gardenhire said. "He was having trouble breathing out there. He said every time he landed on his front foot he felt a stabbing pain. We had to get him out of there."

His replacement, Louis Coleman, came into the game cold with the bases loaded, and was hit with a two-run double by Tyler Austin and a two-run single by Willians Astudillo.

The ball hit by Astudillo had a hit probability of 17 percent, according to Statcast. It was hit to the left of third baseman Jeimer Candelario and got under his glove.

It was the second five-run inning in two nights for the Twins.

They followed that up with a four-run fifth inning off Tigers lefty Matt Hall. Hall gave up four hits, including back-to-back doubles to Austin and Astudillo — who combined for seven RBIs on the night.

For the Tigers, Christin Stewart reached base four times (three singles and a walk) and drove in a run. He has reached base in 14 of the 16 games he’s started.   

"He's actually had some really good at-bats," Gardenhire said. "He uses the whole field, he doesn't just try to jerk everything. He's getting into it. He made a nice play in left field. He's swinging really good and that's what we were hoping to see."

Stewart, who made a team-high nine putouts in left field Wednesday, took extra bases away from Mauer in the first inning with a running stab of a slicing drive. 

Twins pitchers walked seven batters. Only two of those, both in the second inning, crossed home plate.

Tigers hitters were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.


Twitter: @cmccosky