Francisco Casillas Liriano
(The Cisco Kid, The Franchise)
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 2", Weight 185 lb.
Pitcher Francisco Liriano was signed by scout Rick Ragazzo for the San Francisco Giants in September 2000. He made his pro debut the next summer. Liriano was one of three top pitching prospects the Twins pried away from the Giants when they traded C A.J. Pierzynski to them after the 2003 season; the others were Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser.
Liriano went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie with the Minnesota Twins in 2006 and being named to the All-Star team. At that point he was considered the heir-apparent to Johan Santana as the Twins' ace of the future. However, he developed an elbow injury, causing his season to end early.
Liriano missed all of 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Upon his return in 2008, he started 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA; he was sent to the minors, then was much better when he came back, ending the season 6-4, 3.91.
Liriano spent all of 2009 with the Twins, but struggled unsuccessfully to regain his form. He made 29 appearances - 24 of them starts - but went 5-13, 5.80, nearly costing the Twins a shot at the postseason. He was no longer in the starting rotation for the ALDS and gave up two runs in two innings in relief against the New York Yankees. One positive sign was that he did strike out 122 batters in 136.2 innings, against 65 walks, but his command was still wanting. It was a completely different story when 2010 rolled around. He started the year 3-0, 0.93 in April and was named the American League Pitcher of the Month. He finished the season 14-10, 3.62, with 201 strikeouts and won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Liriano struggled early on in 2011. In April, he was 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA and fought with his mechanics. He turned the ship right around in his next start on May 3rd when he threw the first complete game and shutout of his career in no-hitting the Chicago White Sox, 1-0. He still had problems with his control, however, as he walked six batters and threw only 66 of 123 pitches for strikes, but his defense turned three double plays and a number of gems behind him to help him escape and make Jason Kubel's solo homer in the 4th stand up. The last Twins pitcher to hurl a no-hitter had been Eric Milton in 1999. Liriano's next start was delayed by two days by a bout with the flu, then he had to take himself out of the game in the 3rd inning on May 10th, feeling ill on a muggy night. The Twins lost 10-2 to the Detroit Tigers as he gave up 4 runs, including a 2-run homer to Jhonny Peralta. On May 30th, he was placed on the disabled list retroactive to May 23rd with inflammation in his shoulder; he was 3-5, 5.73 at the time. Shortly after his return, he pitched another great game on June 12th, when he held the Texas Rangers hitless until the 8th, on his way to a 6-1 win in which he gave up only 2 hits in 8 innings. That game was arguably better than his no-hitter, as he walked none and struck out 9. On August 25th, he left a start against the Baltimore Orioles after only two innings complaining of a shoulder strain. He was immediately placed on the disabled list. He was 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA at the time and was the third Twins starter to be placed on the DL, joining Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker as the Twins struggled with health issues. He only made two more appearances after returning in September, finishing at 9-10, 5.09 in 26 games, with 112 strikeouts and 75 walks in 134 1/3 innings.
In 2012, Liriano made 22 appearances for the Twins, including 17 starts, but only went 3-10, 5.31, although he did strike out 109 batters in 100 innings against only 55 walks. On July 28th, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in return for IF Eduardo Escobar and P Pedro Hernandez. With the White Sox, he was 3-2, 5.40 in 12 games, for a combined record of 6-12, 5.34 in 156 2/3 innings pitched. His so-so record did not deter the Pittsburgh Pirates from signing him as a free agent to a two-year contract on December 21st for $14 million. However, the deal was never officially announced, and rumors soon surfaced that Liriano had suffered another injury in the meantime, to his non-throwing arm, putting the purported deal in jeopardy. The two sides renegotiated the deal in January, with Liriano assuming much of the financial risk. It was first revealed that Liriano's injury had been a fall in his bathroom, breaking his right arm, then the story changed to something more bizarre, as Liriano was said to have broken his arm banging into a door at home while trying to startle his kids on Christmas Day. Liriano said that the story of a bathroom fall, first published in a Dominican source, was unreliable as no one in the Dominican Republic had spoken to him him about the injury. He had to wait until May 11, 2013 to make his first appearance as a Pirate, but it was very solid. Facing the New York Mets, he struck out 9 batters in 5 1/3 innings, giving up only one run, as Pittsburgh won handily, 11-2. He continued to pitch well after that winning his next two starts in succession. The second of these, on May 22nd, was particularly brilliant as he shut out the Chicago Cubs on just two hits over 7 innings, striking out 8 and nursing a 1-0 1st-inning lead until turning the game over to his bullpen. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon each pitched a scoreless inning to complete the combined shutout as Liriano outdueled Jeff Samardzija. After going 16-8, 3.02 during the season, he started and won the National League Wild Card Game against the Cincinnati Reds, giving up only 1 run on 4 hits in 7 innings. It was especially impressive as he had been 0-3 against Cincinnati in the regular season. For the regular season, he tied Clayton Kershaw and Jorge De La Rosa for third in the 2013 NL in wins despite his month off (trailing Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmermann). His 1.47 home ERA was the lowest by a Pirate starter with 10+ home starts since at least 1920. In the NLDS, Liriano battled Pirates nemesis Joe Kelly to a standstill with two runs in six innings, with a crucial bad call by third base umpire Paul Nauert costing him the runs. Pittsburgh won, 5-3, against the Cards' bullpen. Pittsburgh dropped the Series, 3 games to 2, due to a lack of offense. Liriano was named NL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News, beating out teammates Melancon and Marlon Byrd. He also won the MLB version of the award, becoming the first player to win that honor twice as well as in each league, although Rick Sutcliffe had done so as well when the Sporting News award was the only one around.
With A.J. Burnett departing via free agency, Pittsburgh turned to Liriano for their opener in 2014. He turned in a gem, fanning 10 in six shutout innings, but Jeff Samardzija, pitching for the Cubs, matched him zero for zero before Tony Watson relieved Liriano. Pittsburgh wound up winning, 1-0, in 10 innings. In contrast to his dream season a year earlier, Liriano couldn't seem to get untracked in 2014. He was 0-3 in April, then lost two more games in May before finally registering a win on May 30th, when he managed to keep the Los Angeles Dodgers from scoring in 5 2/3 innings for a 2-1 win. Trouble with his control meant he was needing a lot of pitches to get outs, and as result he did not pitch into the 7th inning a single time in 6 starts during the month. On June 4th, he gave up only one hit to the San Diego Padres over 5 innings, but walked 6 batters and hit one with a pitch, leading to 3 runs and another loss, 3-2. On June 11th, he was placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. He did better after returning, and finished the year with a record of 7-10, 3.38 and 175 Ks in 162 1/3 innings. The Pirates showed that they were confident that Liriano would continue to be a top-notch pitcher over the next several years, re-signing him on December 9th for three years at $39 million.
Liriano had a very solid year for the Pirates in 2015 making 31 starts and pitching 186 2/3 innings with a record of 12-7, 3.38. He also struck out a career-high 205 batters as the number 2 pitcher on the team behind young ace Gerrit Cole. The Pirates had a great regular season, finishing with the second-best record in the major leagues, but unfortunately, the best record belonged to their division mates the St. Louis Cardinals, so the Pirates had to play the Wild Card Game for the third straight year. Cole drew the starting assignment that day against the Chicago Cubs but since the Bucs lost the game, the season ended there, before Francisco could get to pitch in the postseason. In 2016, he found the going tougher, as after 21 starts, his record was 6-11 and his ERA 5.46. One of the sources of his struggles was his control, as he was leading the National League with 69 walks, in 113 2/3 innings. On August 1st, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays with Harold Ramirez and Reese McGuire in return for Drew Hutchison; in spite of being again in the thick of the wild card race, the Pirates had apparently decided to sit out the last couple of months, being sellers at the trading deadline, with closer Mark Melancon and fellow starting pitcher Jon Niese also being traded to contending teams. Liriano pitched very well for the Blue Jays, going 2-2, 2.92 in 10 games. In the American League Wild Card Game against the Baltimore Orioles, he replaced closer Roberto Osuna in the 10th inning and pitched scoreless ball for one and two-third innings, putting him in position to be credited with the win when Edwin Encarnacion hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th. In Game 2 of the ALDS, however, he was hit in the back of the head by a line drive off the bat of Carlos Gomez of the Texas Rangers and suffered a concussion.
After a dominating performance in spring training that secured his spot in the Jays' starting rotation, he was shelled in his first start of 2017 against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 7th. He could only get one out while walking 4 and giving up 3 hits in the 1st inning, giving up 5 runs, but he ended with a no-decision as the Jays were able to come back and tie the game a few innings later. He had a few good games in his next few starts, but remained wildly inconsistent, such that on May 11th, he was 202 with a 6.35 ERA in 7 starts. That day, he was placed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, one day after giving up 7 runs in 2 innings against the Cleveland Indians. He was a winner in his first start after his return, on June 2nd, allowing 2 runs in 5 innings in a 7-5 win over the New York Yankees. He was 6-5 with a terrible ERA of 6.88 in 18 games, all starts, when on July 31st the Blue Jays sent him to the Houston Astros in return for two outfielders, Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez, a good return for a pitcher who had struggled so much. The Astros indicated that he would be used in the bullpen for the time being. He made 20 appearances for the Astros, all as a reliever, going 0-2, 4.40 in 14 1/3 innings. He was - perhaps surprisingly - added to Houston's postseason roster, taking the lace of another lefty, Tony Sipp, who had been even more inconsistent. He was ineffective in the Division Series, giving up 2 hits and a run in two-thirds of an inning against the Boston Red Sox, then was used only one in the ALCS. pitching just one inning, and not at all in the first five games of the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, with manager A.J. Hinch struggling to find relievers who performed well in the series, he turned to Liriano in Game 6 with his team trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the 8th after Luke Gregerson had put a couple of men on base, and he came in to strike out Cody Bellinger to end the inning, but the Astros were unable to mount a 9th-inning comeback. In Game 7, he was summoned again in the bottom of the 5th, after Brad Peacock had put a couple of men on with one out. He gain faced Bellinger, and this time got him to hit into a force out before giving way to Chris Devenski, who recorded the final out of the inning as Houston nursed a 5-0 lead.
- 2006 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
- AL All-Star (2006)
- 2010 AL Comeback Player of the Year
- 2013 NL Comeback Player of the Year
- AL Winning Percentage Leader (2006)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2013)
- 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (2010 & 2015)
- Won one World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017