Earlier this week Ron Gardenhire insisted that the Twins would stick with Francisco Liriano as a starter, but last night the team announced that the left-hander would be shifting to the bullpen after beginning the season 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA.
Apparently the new plan is to get him back on track for an eventual return to the rotation with some low-leverage relief work. Liriano took some very small steps forward in his last two starts, but has been mostly terrible since last season and it would be worth seeing what he can do in a one-inning role before free agency beckons this offseason.
Liriano was the best, most dominant pitcher in baseball as a 22-year-old rookie in 2006, but Tommy John surgery followed after 16 starts. He returned with much lesser raw stuff, but still managed to be a fantastic starter in 2010. That success vanished as well and since then Liriano has a 5.81 ERA and 133/94 K/BB ratio in 161 innings.
Liriano has been bad enough for long enough that trying to salvage some value out of him with a move to the bullpen is perfectly reasonable, but replacing him with 27-year-old Triple-A right-hander P.J. Walters isn’t likely to actually keep more runs off the board. Walters has a 7.24 ERA with 12 homers allowed in 51 innings as a big leaguer, averaged just 88.0 miles per hour with his fastball during that time, and has a 4.51 ERA in 91 career starts at Triple-A.
After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.
According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.
Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.
Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.