Blue Jays want Liriano in the ‘pen despite rough outing

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With the postseason looming in the not-too-distant future, teams are beginning to experiment with unorthodox methods of roster optimization. For the Blue Jays, that meant slotting left-handed starter Francisco Liriano into the bullpen on Friday.

Manager John Gibbons decided to shake things up after realizing that a couple of off days would have interrupted the rhythm of his six-man rotation. Shifting Liriano to the ‘pen, even temporarily, afforded the team more flexibility with the rotation and gave them an informal look at Liriano in a new role, one he might still have come October if the Blue Jays can’t find a suitable left-handed alternative by then.

Unfortunately, what seemed like an interesting idea on paper didn’t translate to the field nearly as well as it should have. Liriano failed to record a single out during the Blue Jays’ 8-3 loss to the Rays, starting with a leadoff home run to Luke Maile and ending with a Kevin Kiermaier RBI triple.

Perhaps the Blue Jays should have seen it coming. After all, this hasn’t been Liriano’s finest season, not by a long shot. The southpaw’s 5.22 ERA hasn’t been this high since his last bullpen role in 2012, which he polished off with a 5.34 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 156 ⅔ innings.He’s also dealing with control issues after his walk rate shot up from 9.1% in 2015 to 12.7% in 2016, matching the career-high mark he set in 2011. With the Red Sox just 1.5 games away from overtaking the Blue Jays for the AL East lead, taking an -0.1 fWAR player and sticking him in more high leverage situations could be a risky move.

For now, however, Gibbons seems committed to Liriano’s new role, if only to ensure that the rest of the rotation stays intact.

That was Day One of the Francisco Liriano Bullpen Experiment. We’ll see what Day Two has in store for the Blue Jays tomorrow evening.