It’s that time of the year again. The pitchers and catchers of the Pittsburgh Pirates went south to their second home of Bradenton, Florida, Monday. This spring, a familiar face who could pay dividends in 2019, Francisco Liriano, rejoined the team after a two-year hiatus.
The Pirates are in an interesting spot. Few are going out on a limb and saying the team has a legitimate chance to compete this coming year. However, many other fans believe the team has a solid pitching rotation.
Are those people wrong? Just look at some of the names showcased: Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams.
There’s a lot to get excited about. One thing stands out, though. Who will grab the fifth spot?
Here’s something different this year compared to years past: multiple pitchers have the opportunity to capture a spot in the back-end of the rotation. Some of the names include Jordan Lyles, Nick Kingham, Steven Brault and Liriano.
Most people, including general manager Neal Huntington at Piratesfest, suggest Lyles is on the fast-track to grabbing the starting role.
I nullify that idea now.
The former Pirates pitcher, Liriano, 35, instantly becomes the favorite in my book. He’s looked at as a bullpen arm because of how the Houston Astros utilized him. However, he proved last season that he can still start games after beginning 26 games for the Detroit Tigers last year.
Were the numbers great? No.
However, a return to a pitcher’s ballpark, with a familiar coaching staff that helped him bring out his full potential, can’t hurt.
Look at how his career began with Pittsburgh the first time around. Nobody viewed him as star or pitcher who would have an impact. Instead, he struck out almost more than 40 more batters than innings pitched, allowed less hits than innings pitched and allowed less than a homer a game over four seasons.
Actually, his numbers were worse in 2012 entering 2013 than they were last year coming into this year.
It’s hard not to point at A.J. Burnett and his success after leaving the Pirates for a season and then coming back. His struggles carried over into all aspects of his game. However, a return back to PNC Park helped him capture his only MLB All-Star Game appearance in 2015.
Who says this can’t happen with Liriano under the tutelage of Ray Searage again?
Liriano’s rise to prominence in Pittsburgh emerged during that
He helped lead the Pirates to the postseason every year from 2013-15, snapping the longest streak of losing seasons in North American sports history.
After a rocky patch in 2016, the Pirates parted ways with the veteran lefty.
However, now, following three different stops, the two sides have come to an agreement on a minor league deal. A return back to Pittsburgh may be the jolt Liriano needs to revitalize the tail-end of his career.
PHOTO: Francisco Liriano is making his return to the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first time since 2016. Photo courtesy of Nick Wass/Associated Press.
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