BRADENTON, Fla. — Francisco Liriano has twice won Comeback Player of the Year honors, once in each league, as bestowed by MLB.com.
Yet that is not a mark of distinction for the 30-year-old left-hander. Instead, it is a sign of all the inconsistency Liriano has shown throughout his eight-year career in the major leagues.
Liriano was the American League Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 when he went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA for Minnesota. A year earlier, he had compiled a 5-13 record and a 5.80 ERA for the Twins.
Liriano won the honor in the National League last season for going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was quite a contrast from his 2012 performance in which he was 6-12 with a 5.34 ERA with the Twins and Chicago White Sox.
Thus, it was quite stunning in the early days of spring training when Pirates manager Clint Hurdle used the word “dependability” in describing Liriano after announcing him as Pittsburgh’s opening day starter. Hurdle is an eternal optimist, but no one had ever put Liriano and dependable in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence.
“He’s a man you can depend on,” Hurdle said. “Many times, I’ve shared with these players the greatest ability you can have, day in and day out is your dependability. Frank is very consistent with his effort and demeanor, both on and off the mound.”
Liriano smiled when asked about Hurdle’s description. He has long heard the criticism about being too inconsistent and/or an underachiever.
“When I’ve been healthy, I’ve been a good pitcher,” Liriano said. “I haven’t always been healthy. But I feel like I can beat anybody when I’m feeling good.”
Liriano had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery following his rookie season with the Twins in 2006. He exasperated manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson because they felt Liriano was hesitant to cut the ball loose during the first three years following his recovery.
Liriano then had his first comeback season in 2010, before experiencing shoulder pain early in 2011 that lingered off and on through 2012. Topping it off, Liriano missed the first six weeks of last season because of a broken right (non-throwing) arm, suffered in some type of household accident — there have been contradictory reports about it — on Christmas Day in the Dominican Republic.
Yet once Liriano got healthy, he stayed healthy and helped the Pirates post their first winning season and make their first postseason appearances in 21 years. He says he has never felt better, either physically or mentally, than right now.
“I feel like I found a home here with the Pirates,” Liriano said. “I have felt welcome since the day I agreed to play here. It makes me feel good to know they feel good about me.”
The Pirates feel so good about Liriano that they refer to him as the leader of the pitching staff following the departure of A.J. Burnett in free agency to the Philadelphia Phillies last month. No one could have expected Liriano carrying that title, even as recently as the middle of last season.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. “He’ll lead by his actions. He not only helps out the Latin pitchers but the American pitchers. The guys on our staff just congregate around him. They really respect Frankie and what he’s done since he’s been here.”