Liriano to land on disabled list
Twins' young pitcher experiencing pain near his elbow
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The Twins have long taken precautions to protect the health of All-Star rookie Francisco Liriano, knowing the type of talent the phenom possesses.
On Tuesday they took another precaution, as the club decided to place the left-hander on the 15-day disabled list due to the pain he has been experiencing near his left elbow.
An official move had not yet been made as of early Tuesday evening, but manager Ron Gardenhire confirmed the club will place Liriano on the disabled list and recall another pitcher to fill his spot in the rotation.
It likely will be either Scott Baker or Boof Bonser that will get the call up from Triple-A Rochester to take Liriano's place on Saturday against the Blue Jays.
"We're going to miss him out of our rotation -- a great arm like that," Gardenhire said. "But on the other side of it, it's also our goal to protect these young pitchers and we understand that it's all about taking care of that arm so he's here many, many years down the road."
Liriano has been dealing with the soreness in his elbow since a start against the Tigers on July 28. It was that pain near the elbow that caused Liriano to skip his scheduled start on Aug. 2 as a precautionary measure. An MRI of Liriano's arm on July 31 revealed no structural damage to the elbow, just some inflammation in the muscle.
But it was that same pain that caused Liriano to leave his most recent start, in Detroit on Monday, after just four innings. He allowed four runs on 10 hits in the club's 9-3 loss. Liriano said he felt the pain worsen and was close to tears as he talked about it following the start.
Liriano will undergo an enhanced MRI by team orthopedic physician Dr. Dan Buss on Thursday afternoon upon the team's return to Minnesota. This type of MRI will call for dye to be injected into the elbow to try to determine what may be causing the pain.
Though the cause of the pain is unknown, the decision to place Liriano on the DL came mostly due to the fact that the pain has persisted after it had appeared Liriano had gotten back to full strength over the past 10 days.
Since his start was skipped on Aug. 2, Liriano had maintained that through taking anti-inflammatory medication and getting a bit of extra rest that the soreness had gone away. But after his start Monday, Liriano admitted the pain hadn't really disappeared but he pushed through it so that he could keep pitching.
The Twins coaching staff was upset by the fact Liriano kept the pain hidden from them. With a young arm, the Twins don't want to take any unnecessary risks of injury, and they tried to explain that to the 22-year-old on Tuesday afternoon in a meeting during which they discussed the importance of being honest about injuries.
"He wants to pitch, and you applaud that, but at the same time, you're talking about a 22-year-old young man that needs to be protected," Gardenhire said. "Veterans can get away with that and saying, 'Hey, I've lived with it. I've dealt with it' type thing, but when talking about young arms, it's different. We need to know."
The loss of Liriano for at least 15 days will be a blow to the club as it continues to chase postseason hopes. The Twins trail the Red Sox and White Sox in the Wild Card standings by one-half game, and they trail the Tigers by 10 1/2 games in the American League Central.
After it seemed the rotation had solidified after a rough start, this has been the latest setback. The club has seen a revolving door of pitchers in the fifth spot, and the news of Liriano's placement on the DL came on the heels of the club calling up top pitching prospect Matt Garza on Tuesday to start on Friday.
Now the Twins will have to rely on either Baker or Bonser to fill in on Saturday with the hope that success will follow. That's not exactly a guaranteed thing, as both pitchers have seen their fair share of struggles at the Major League level this season.
Baker, who started the year as the No. 5 starter, has been working on keeping his pitches down in the zone, a problem that has plagued him in nearly every big-league start.
Bonser also has struggled with control, including having trouble getting pitches over the plate in a loss at Kansas City in early July.
But both pitchers showed considerable improvement in their last starts in Triple-A. Baker allowed two earned runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings on Sunday, while Bonser gave up just two runs on four hits in seven innings on Monday.
But despite the uncertainty of how the rotation will fare without Liriano, the concern for the club first and foremost is to get Liriano back to full strength before it thinks of returning him to the mound.
"First, we're going to get him straightened out and make sure he's healthy," Gardenhire said. "Then we'll do the best we can with the rest of the rotation."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.