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.
Gibbons said #BlueJays still expect Liriano to make at least a couple of starts but this gives club an opportunity to see him in 'pen.— Gregor Chisholm (@gregorMLB) September 2, 2016
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.