PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano turns 32 later this year and has logged more than 1,200 innings in the major leagues, but it seems his career has played out in different chapters.
There was the earliest version of Liriano, the rookie with the wicked, unhittable slider who struck out 177 batters in 144 2/3 innings for the Twins before he blew out his elbow. Then there was the post-surgery Liriano, who couldn't replicate his earlier work; he saw his ERA climb over 5.00 with regularity and seemed tentative at times as his confidence wavered.
But lately, Liriano has become the sort of pitcher a manager would confidently give the ball to in a playoff or World Series game, a mental rock who seems to get tougher, catcher Francisco Cervelli says, with runners on base. Liriano has a 2.99 ERA for the Pirates this season, with 119 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings.
Not surprisingly, there have been changes along the way, like the changeup that he learned from Johan Santana, which helps him keep hitters off balance.