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Liriano’s sparkling rehab start shows why he might be the Pirates’ key wildcard (and a smart buy-low bet) …. and The Cobra II?

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We saw the bad version of Francisco Liriano, the guy who loses focus and command at times, in his second rehab start at Double-A last week. Liriano failed to complete three innings and needed 67 pitches to record eight outs.

 

We saw the good version of Liriano – the version the Pirates need come May - last night in Triple-A.

 

Against more experienced batters, Liriano did not allow a run over five innings, throwing 59 of his 72 pitches for strikes. Perhaps most encouraging for the Pirates is he didn’t walk a single batter while striking out eight.

 

He touched 95 mph. (He sat between 90-94 mph with his fastball in his previous start.)

In three rehab starts this is Liriano‘s combined line: 10.2Ip, 8h, 5r, 3bb, 18k, 4.22 ERA.

 

Forget the ERA for now, check out the K/BB ratio. All in all, that has to be encouraging for the Pirates. Remember this is a guy who averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in the second half last year. His fastball averaged 93 mph last season. He has stuff.

 

These were the top lefty average fastball velocities from last season:

1. David Price (95.5 mph)

2. Matt Moore (94.4 mph)

3. Clayton Kershaw (93.2 mph)

4. Gio Gonzalez (93.1 mph)

5. Francisco Liriano (93.0 mph)

 

That’s pretty good company: a Cy-Young winner, a Cy Young runner-up, a phenom, and Gio Gonzalez, who would be a No. 1 on many staffs around baseball.

 

And remember Liriano is only guaranteed $1 million this season (though he does have $3.75 million in potential bonuses). It’s an incredible bargain even if he just pitchers like a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. 

 

But he has more upside than that.

 

If you’re left-handed and have elite velocity that’s a pretty good start. If he can refine his command he could be a great find and key rotation piece – along with Charlie Morton and perhaps Gerrit Cole – for the second half of the season.

 

Liriano is in line to debut May 10 at the Mets.

 

As I wrote earlier this week, the key for the Pirates to sustain their start is to improve starting pitching performance. The Pirates starters simply have to pitcher better and deeper into games and keep this effective bullpen fresh in July, August and September. Liriano has to pitch deeper into games. We know he can miss bats. But as Clint Hurdle said he must pitch better to contact and work deeper into games. If he can do that, perhaps he can be the key to a second half push to climb above .500.

 

THE COBRA PART 2.0?

parker (1)

(Dave Parker made this shirt famous in 1976, maybe Gregory Polanco will have a similar T-shirt to call his own)

 

I was talking to a scout last week about Gregory Polanco, the Pirates No. 4 rated prospect entering the season according to Baseball America. Polanco is shredding the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, batting .389 over his last 10 games.

 

He’s a 6-foot-4 left-handed hitter with all five tools, including the speed (9 steals) to perhaps stick in center field at the Major League level, though he’ll move to a corner so long as Andrew McCutchen is in center.

 

I asked the scout this: ‘Is he your Oscar Taveras (the Cardinals hitting star and top-rated bat in the minors)?’ Thinking, no one is Taveras. 

 

Scout: “He has more power”

 

Me: Silence.

 

Scout: “He could be another Dave Parker”

 

Me: Silence.

 

Keep an eye on Polanco, he has some serious helium to his game right now.

 

– TS

(Twitter: @Sawchik_Trib)

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