Monday, May 30, 2011

Twins send Liriano to the DL

Following what has become a common sight – the Twins bullpen blowing a 5-run lead against the Angels on Friday night - the Twins issued a statement saying that Francisco Liriano would be skipped in what would have been his normally scheduled start on Saturday due to a sore shoulder.

Before Monday’s game Joe Christensen relayed some grim information regarding Liriano’s progress saying:
“Liriano said his left shoulder did not feel well when he played catch before [Monday]'s game against the Tigers, so he will likely miss one more start, at least…Toward the end of batting practice today, Liriano was shagging balls in center field and having teammates throw the balls back toward the infield for him.”
So, after showing some improvement in his more recent starts against Seattle and Arizona, Liriano exits May on the 15-day disabled list. The underlying tone of this move is that it should not signify anything more than a need to give Liriano the required rest and provide Gardenhire with another option out in the ‘pen. Rather than move forward with an already depleted bullpen since Anthony Swarzak has been tapped to fill Liriano’s void for the time being, the Twins summoned reliever Anthony Slama from Rochester to take Swarzak’s place. The Liriano transaction is retroactive to May 23 so he could be ready to start again on June 6, essentially bypassing his second consecutive start. He needed another start skipped and the Twins needed an arm. Simple as that.

Of course, while I say it shouldn’t signify much of anything, there is plenty of evidence to make people wonder if there is something more substantial happening with Liriano’s arm.

Liriano entered the season not in condition to withstand the rigors of spring training. He matched that by being unable to neither work ahead of hitters nor locate the strike zone on a regular basis with his fastball when the regular season started.  As I outlined at the end of April, there were some indications that he was releasing the ball differently than his previous season which may have had some big influential factors on his overall command. On top of that, he showed some decay in his velocity as well. Given those factors, it wasn’t too hard to fathom some eventual visit to the disabled list for Liriano.

Back in February, when the Twins made it clear they were not going to pursue a long-term contract with Liriano, I was one of a handful of Twins bloggers that sided with the club on their decision. To be sure, the stance went against the grain of all that I had upheld as a statistically-oriented and data-driven individual, especially given the fact that the team would have been able to get a team-friendly deal at that point, but my research and video scouting led me to the same conclusion that the Twins reached.

One of the biggest aspects of my findings that stood out to me in terms of Liriano was this section:
“There is an on-going debate on whether or not throwing sliders takes a bigger toll on a pitcher’s arm versus the other assortment of pitches. One study conducted by Dr. James Andrews and Dr Glenn Fleisig (among others) found that there was no conclusive evidence that showed that a slider was any more or less damaging to a pitcher’s arm than a fastball, but they conceded that the small sample size gave no real insight to whether or not this is true. What they did find is that slider tends to have greater “shoulder proximal force than curveballs”. This is noteworthy because if a pitcher demonstrates improper timing in their mechanics and increases their shoulder proximal force, according to Andrews’s book “The Athlete’s Shoulder”, additional pressure is put on the bicep tendon-complex which increasingly leads to a SLAP lesion.
So here we are two months into the season and Liriano who, time and again, has been accused of funky mechanics is now sidelined with a sore shoulder. Fortunately, the Twins did perform an MRI which did not reveal any SLAP lesions. Their analysis came back showing just slight inflammation with signs of tendinitis. Now it is completely possible that this is a blip on the radar - which he has general soreness and developed some tendinitis and the rest will heal him – but even tendinitis, which is common, has a funny way of lingering and disrupting performances. For instance, Glen Perkins had been diagnosed with tendinitis in July of 2009 and – despite coming back in 2010 - he never really recovered his stuff until the 2011 season.

With their position in the division, the Twins may have wanted Liriano to string together a few more starts like the ones in Seattle or Arizona in order to increase his trade value by the deadline. This injury combined with his lackluster performance could dampers those plans.  Certainly the hope is that with the rest and some anti-inflammatory treatment he’ll be ready in a week’s time, however, given the red flags throughout this season, there is a part of me that wouldn’t be surprised if Liriano’s injury does not wind up more extensive time on the DL before the year's end.