The Twins announced yesterday that they would skip Francisco Liriano’s next start and try to get him back on track before he faces the Angels in Anaheim next week. They hope that he’ll use the time to relax and fix his mechanical issues so that he can get back to the pitcher he was.
I think most would agree with me if I say Liriano has a full-blown case of Steve Blass Disease, an affliction named for the former Pirates starter from the 1970s. Blass was a great pitcher who anchored the Pittsburgh staff for the better part of a decade and led them to the World Series in 1971, but in 1973 he suddenly stopped being able to throw strikes. That year he walked an incredible 84 batters in 88 innings and posted a 9.85 ERA (his career ERA was 3.63). The usually non-sports-focused radio show This American Life recently featured an interview with Blass, and it’s worth a listen because it gives some insight into how Liriano might overcome his problems. If you believe the sports psychologists from the story, Liriano should completely ignore his problems and try not to think of them at all. The absolute worst thing for him to do is to concentrate on his mechanics. Thus, it might be an ominous sign that the Twins are making him try to “throw from one spot on the pitching rubber at all times, to help maintain a consistent arm slot” as this Star Tribune article states.
My opinion is that Liriano would benefit from a month at Rochester to build his confidence. This approach worked for him in 2008 after he returned from Tommy John Surgery. Many have suggested shifting him to the bullpen, but aside from the closer spot, the Twins bullpen seems to have enough solid arms so far, and they definitely do not need another lefty with Brian Duensing, Matt Maloney, and Glen Perkins already there.
Last night’s 6-5 loss to Boston was a true baseball heartbreaker. The Twins looked to be in control for most of the game, and they had two legitimate chances to win it, once when Jamey Carroll hit a triple that was scored as a single to open the eighth, and again when Trevor Plouffe just missed a walk-off homer. But inevitably after a Twins loss, some malcontents on Twitter and angry commenters on the local sports pages find a way to blame the loss on Joe Mauer. Mauer came up with Carroll on third and nobody out in the eighth, and he hit a weak groundout to first that could not score the runner. Yes, that was unfortunate. But I think it is an incredible exaggeration to pin this or any other loss on Mauer, given the fact that he is the most productive player on the team.
People can say that Mauer is not “clutch,” but that is patently untrue. As Twins Fan From Afar pointed out today, Mauer actually has a better career average with runners and scoring position than he does overall. And whatever he did in the eighth inning at bat, Mauer had already contributed to the Twins’ cause with two hits and a walk. Some people might argue that a hit early in the game is not worth as much as a hit late in the game, but those people are wrong. A run counts the same no matter when it is scored. If Mauer had not singled and scored in the fourth inning last night, he would not have been up with a tie game in the eighth – the Twins would have been behind.
There are many players on the team far more deserving of criticism than Joe Mauer. Let’s keep the complaints focused on those players.