Francisco Liriano was tagged with a loss Sunday as he allowed five runs over five innings, handing out four walks while throwing just 47 of 86 pitches for strikes.
It qualified as his best start of the season.
Through four turns, Liriano sits with an 11.02 ERA, 2.28 WHIP and 12-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 16 2/3 innings. Only 57 percent of his pitches are finding the zone, which is the same rate he finished with in 2011. He was being counted on this year to rebound and lead the rotation, but instead he's been its biggest problem.
Given that he's shown no meaningful signs of improvement over these first four starts, the Twins are undoubtedly taking a look at their options. I've been one of Liriano's staunchest defenders, but even I wouldn't fault the team for bumping him to the bullpen until he figures out how to throw strikes.
The left-hander seems oddly ambivalent about the situation
, considering how much it impacts his livelihood. Pitching his way out of the rotation in the season preceding his first foray into free agency? He stands to cost himself many millions. It's a tough thing for the Twins to have to do, but his abysmal performance is giving them little choice but to consider making a move.
This is hardly an ideal situation for the club. Their starting pitching depth is already stretched thin with Scott Baker gone for the year, and while Anthony Swarzak has been relatively effect as a swing man, that's the role he's best suited for and his outing last week against the Yankees was an example of why he shouldn't be starting regularly. Brian Duensing and Matt Maloney, like Swarzak, are pitchers with a history of starting who are better suited for relief roles.
You could make a case that Scott Diamond is banging on the door in Triple-A, as he's 4-0 with a 1.07 ERA and 18-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 1/3 innings over his first four starts in Rochester. Of course, the 25-year-old Diamond was also one of the Twins' early cuts in spring training after pitching quite poorly in big-league stints last year.
People shouldn't get overly worked up over four good Triple-A starts from the lefty. He's putting up essentially the same peripherals now as he did last year, when he went 4-14 with a 5.56 ERA for Rochester. He has stranded over 90 percent of base runners up to this point, which is beyond unsustainable. If called up, Diamond won't fool many hitters, but he'll at least throw strikes and might be able to hold his own thanks to a solid grounder rate.
A complete turnaround from Liriano might be the only way for the Twins to climb into contention, because they're destined to wallow in mediocrity with a rotation full of soft-tossing contact pitchers, but it's hard to hold out hope for such a reversal from Frankie when he's looking every bit as bad as he did for basically the entire 2011 season.
At this point, replacing him with a guy who has "No. 5 starter" written all over him is beginning to look like a palatable option. That's bad news for the Twins, and it's worse news for Liriano's bank account.