Blue Jays have plenty to like in Francisco Liriano
New acquisition Francisco Liriano had a solid first outing in his Blue Jays debut, as he looks to turn the page in Toronto.
Friday night was the first look for Blue Jays fans at Francisco Liriano, the final acquisition prior to the August 1st non-waiver trade deadline. Liriano and the starting rotation have been the focus of discussion around the Blue Jays for some time now, and many eyes were on the 32 year old left-hander as he toed the rubber for the first time in blue.
It wasn’t perfect, but Liriano gave the Blue Jays a quality start and plenty of reason for optimism going forward. He received a no decision, but finished with a line of three runs (two earned), seven hits, and two walks over six innings. The former All-Star has battled control issues in 2016, but didn’t issue a free pass until the 5th, which not so coincidentally was the beginning of the end of his day. All in all, it was a solid debut and Liriano gave the Blue Jays a chance to win, which they did.
The Dominican came to the Blue Jays with a 6-11 record, a 5.46 ERA, and an MLB-leading 69 walks while with the Pirates, so there was plenty of reason to question the decision to bring him into a pennant race. Add in that he’s coming to a stronger AL East and moving to a new team and country, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a player who has struggled already.
But the Blue Jays knew Liriano was a risk and they felt it was one worth taking. Friday night was the first step in proving the Jays’ brass correct with this move, but regardless of his performance going forward there is plenty to like about the trade.
First of all, it gives the Blue Jays depth in their rotation and allows them to experiment with a six-man rotation, keeping phenom Aaron Sanchez in the starting fold. Whether fans like it or not, the Blue Jays were never going to run out Sanchez every fifth day for the rest of the season, so this is as close to a win for the “Sanchez needs to start” camp as it gets.
Liriano reportedly had a lot to do with the decision, expressing a willingness to fill any role asked of him with his new club. Whether it be as a starter, bullpen arm, or member of a six-man rotation, he came with the right attitude.
If the 11-year veteran can’t make a solid contribution in the rotation, he’s reportedly open to joining the bullpen if asked. This likely won’t be a strategy the Jays employ immediately, but he could become a crucial bullpen arm in playoffs, assuming they qualify. Long known for his Fastball-Slider combo, he has the tools to thrive as a LOOGY (left-handed specialist). The Jays could certainly use more depth in this area, with lone lefty Brett Cecil in the pen at the moment.
There’s no guarantee he won’t thrive in the rotation though either. Plenty of talented players have been able to perform well after a mid-season trade, especially when joining a possible playoff team. Just this season the Blue Jays have watched Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit perform MUCH better than they did with their previous clubs, and it’s entirely possible Liriano could do the same. After all, this is a guy who is still only 32, and has a career record of 94-90, 4.08 ERA, an All-Star appearance and plenty of Cy Young votes. He also has the added benefit of throwing to his old catcher, whom he thrived working with, in Russell Martin.
As a starter, Liriano provides the depth needed to keep Sanchez in the rotation, and safeguards against Marco Estrada‘s ailing back and/or the potential for injury to others. If he can continue to perform as well as he did on Friday he’ll be a welcome addition to the rotation for the remainder of the regular season. If he struggles as a starter (or even if he doesn’t), he could be a valuable addition to the bullpen in the playoffs, and it sounds as though he’s brought a “team-first” attitude, which is a big factor. Add in that the Blue Jays got two valuable prospects as well in the deal, and there’s plenty of reason to like having him around.
Liriano won’t pitch again until next week, but he’s so far he’s given the Jays exactly what they need, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can continue to do just that.