(97.1 The Ticket) Francisco Liriano received quite the test in his Tigers debut on Tuesday afternoon, taking on a Yankees lineup that featured the likes of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez.
Fair to say, Liriano passed.
The 35-year-old lefty, signed to a one-year deal by the Tigers last last month, threw two scoreless innings. He surrendered one hit, two walks and recorded three strikeouts on 36 pitches. Perhaps most notably, his fastball hovered between 93-94 mph, per Evan Woodberry.
Liriano appears to be competing with Mike Fiers, another veteran who came to the Tigers from the Astros via free agency, for the fifth spot in the Tigers’ rotation. He suffered a minor hamstring injury shortly after he joined the team last month, but bounced back on Tuesday.
In the first inning, Liriano induced a fly out from Didi Gregorious before running into trouble by walking Judge on a 3-2 pitch and serving up a single to Greg Bird. But he escaped the jam by striking out Stanton swinging on a changeup and setting down Sanchez looking on a high fastball, per Woodberry.
In the second, Liriano issued a leadoff walk to Aaron Hicks and then struck out Adam Lind swinging. He ended the inning by getting the Yankees’ hottest hitter this spring, top-100 prospect Miguel Andujar, to rap into a double play.
That was all for Liriano, who threw 19 strikes on 36 pitches. That ratio is something he’d like to improve, even if it didn’t cost him on Tuesday.
“My main focus this year is to eliminate the walks and make something happen with three pitches or less. That’s where a walk can hurt me,” Liriano told reporters.
Over 38 appearances with the Blue Jays and the Astros last season, Liriano issued 4.9 BB/9. When he was pitching out of the bullpen in Houston, it spiked to a career-high 6.3 BB/9.
Liriano’s most recent sustained success as a starter came from 2013-2015 with the Pirates. He allowed a more manageable 3.8 BB/9 over that span. Control will be key for him in 2018. Should he prove effective over the first half of the season, the Tigers can flip him at the trade deadline for prospects.
Liriano is reunited in Detroit with Ron Gardenhire, his manager in Minnesota Twins from 2005-2012, and Rick Anderson, his pitching coach over the same span. Anderson is now the Tigers’ bullpen coach. Some of Liriano’s best years came in Minnesota, where he was an All-Star in 2006 and a fringe Cy Young candidate in 2010.