Francisco Liriano and the near no-hitter

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The resurgent Francisco Liriano pitched five hitless innings and combined with four relievers on a one-hit shutout of the Pirates on Sunday.

The Pirates got their only hit when Brandon Boggs singled off Luis Perdomo in the eighth. Twins pitchers ended up with 10 strikeouts in the 10-0 win. Liriano recorded six of them.

Liriano, who went 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA last season, has impressed in three of his four outings this spring, with all four of the runs and four of the six hits he’s allowed coming against the Blue Jays five days ago. Overall, he’s fanned 18 and walked two in 13 innings.

Liriano was obviously better prepared for this spring after getting some innings in during the Dominican Winter League season. His fastball command is better than it was at any point of last season, and his slider is plenty sharp as well. There’s certainly no guarantee that he’ll stay healthy, but he seems poised to deliver the bounce-back season the offensively-challenged Twins are going to need from him.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”