The Comeback Player of the Year: an award you never want to be a candidate for, but one which, if you win, represents a triumph. It’s gotta feel pretty good overall. And Mariano Rivera and Francisco Liriano are probably feeling pretty good today, because won the Comeback Player of the Year Awards for the AL and NL, respectively, last night.
The award, voted on by MLB.com writers, is presented annually to one player in each league who has re-emerged on the field during the season. Often the award is given to a player who missed a season or a large part of a season due to injury or illness. But, as is the case with Liriano, it can go to a guy who simply bounced back from ineffectiveness.
And Liriano was in the competitive wilderness for a while. He posted ERAs of 5.34 and 5.09 in 2012 and 2011, with a combined record of 15-22 bouncing from the Twins to the White Sox. This season he put it altogether, though, going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 26 starts for the Pirates. This after breaking his arm in the offseason. He was a key part to the Pirates improbable playoff run.
As for Mariano Rivera: the fact that I forgot he was injured and missed most of 2012 with that ACL injury until I saw the announcement probably tells you that it was a pretty good and thorough comeback. Indeed, he didn’t miss a beat in his final year, saving 44 games while compiling a 6-2 record with a 2.11 ERA and 54 strikeouts and nine walks. All at age 43.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.