Francisco Liriano has come a long way in 12 months.
Last year at this time, the then-29-year-old left-handed pitcher was rehabbing a broken right arm sustained in an accident at home. Because of the fluke injury, Liriano, a former young star with the Minnesota Twins, was forced to accept an incentive-laden two-year deal with the Pirates in an attempt to revive his career.
Liriano went on to have an excellent 2013 for Pittsburgh, coming in ninth in the National League Cy Young voting after posting a 3.02 ERA in 26 regular-season starts. He also helped the Pirates to wins in both of his postseason appearances, the first of which was an all-or-nothing wild-card showdown with Cincinnati.
Now, with former No. 1 A.J. Burnett off to Philadelphia and ace-in-waiting Gerrit Cole yet to complete a full MLB season, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has decreed that Liriano will get the Opening Day start March 31.
This news comes from Pirates camp in Bradenton, Fla., where it was reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink, among others. Pittsburgh opens at home this year, and Liriano’s first-pitch assignment will allow the PNC Park crowd to show its appreciation for the 30-year-old Dominican Republic native.
Last year, Liriano rode his still-firm fastball and brilliant slider to an excellent strikeout rate of 9.1 per nine innings, but it was his control that made him one of the NL’s best pitchers. Following three straight seasons with a walk rate of 5.0 or higher, Liriano cut down the free passes to 3.5 per nine in 2013.
Hurdle cited that “dependability” in justifying his decision to turn to Liriano in the opener against the Cubs. Liriano presided over the Pirates’ final win last fall, in Game 3 of the NLDS, and he’ll gun for a positive start to 2014 in a little over a month.
The Pirates also announced that Jason Aldean will be performing Saturday, July 26th at PNC Park. Make sure to grab your Pittsburgh Pirates Jason Aldean tickets now, as well as grab some seats for opening day!