Now that Francisco Liriano has had four consecutive bad starts, it is not difficult to believe the Twins’ brass will not even let him try “one more time” before looking at some alternatives. Given the comments by manager Ron Gardenhire after Liriano’s last start, patience has run out and options are being considered. As a result, there is a good deal of speculation on what might be in the works for him, at least in the short term.
Perhaps most likely is his being moved to the bullpen, at least to see if he can regain some semblance of consistency on locating his fastball. If this is the decision, someone else may need to be moved to the starting rotation. My guess is the number one option for that is Anthony Swarzak, who has started a couple of games and pitched out of the bullpen to relieve Liriano on Sunday putting him in the right position to rejoin the rotation in a normal time interval.
If Liriano is envisioned to return soon to the rotation, the Twins could just skip his next start using the day off to keep the others in a normal five-day rotation. That would allow him to pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times in between starts.
A more radical alternative would be to send him to AAA to give him time under less stressful circumstances to regain his form and confidence before calling him up again later in the year. Because he has been in the major leagues for five or more years, he would need to give his consent to be optioned to Rochester. He might be amenable to that because in this contract year it is also in his best interest to demonstrate his value. Pitching well in AAA would be an improvement over his poor showing so far. Sending an established player who is struggling down would not be new for the Twins, so this choice cannot be ruled out.
If he is taken out of the rotation, one other move might be considered by the Twins. The fact that Scott Diamond has pitched so well at Rochester, gives them the option of calling him up and placing him in the starting rotation leaving Swarzak for the bullpen, where he is better suited.
Least likely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility, is some kind of trade that nets a serviceable starting pitcher for the Twins. I consider this a long shot because it is never wise to trade from a point of weakness, and I cannot imagine Liriano having lower market value than he has right now. Also, if the Twins have any hope of being competitive this year (a rapidly fleeting thought), the need is for a top of the rotation pitcher not another fifth starter type. Swarzak, Diamond or even Matt Maloney or Brian Duensing could fill the latter role cheaper than a veteran available by trade at this time of year.
If the decision was mine to make, I’d have Liriano pitch out of the bullpen a couple of times to see how he does and delay a final decision on his status in the rotation for at least a week. I’d choose to skip his start keeping others in rotation and giving as much bullpen flexibility as possible because the reduction from 13 to 12 pitchers is coming soon, probably after Nick Blackburn’s start on Tuesday. If all goes well for Blackburn, someone will be sent down or released and if he has a recurrence of his shoulder cramp, he’ll be put on the DL, creating yet another problem for the starting rotation.
I expect Blackburn to pitch well demonstrating he is fully recovered and the focus will then remain on Liriano and how to get him back on track.