Thoughts on Returns of Cueto, Liriano, Johnson and 4/14 Roundup

As promised, I’m back to quickly give my thoughts on Johnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano’s starts from Sunday, or at least what I saw of them. In my previous post, I mentioned that I “didn’t come away impressed” with either pitcher’s performance on Sunday. That statement might be a little deceptive, in retrospect.

In Liriano’s case, I wasn’t all that impressed. He didn’t have great command, his velocity was down and he looked pretty darn hittable. He did manage to strike four Royals out, but he also walked five of them, so that’s more suggestive of command issues than the kind of stuff he had.

It’s pretty simple with Liriano. If he gets his velocity back — his heater reportedly floated around 90 for much of the day, down about five miles per hour from his 2006 season — he should also regain his effectiveness. Even with the drop in velocity, the lefty’s changeup kept the Royals off balance.

If Liriano’s heater lags in the low-90s for much of the year, his stuff remains good enough that he’ll be able to get by and be a fairly productive starter. Though for that to happen, he’ll need to have better command than he did on Sunday — his five walks set a new career-high.

I didn’t pay quite as much attention to Johnny Cueto’s third start of the season. From what I saw early on in the start, it appeared he didn’t have it. Looking at the box score, it appears that he corrected some of the issues he had early in the game regarding his command — he only walked one batter — but it was still his worst outing of the year.

Now, let me clarify what I meant when I noted that I wasn’t all that impressed with Cueto. It was pretty clear from the onset that this was a bad day for him. Every pitcher has rough outings, this wasn’t a big concern to me. The thing that bothered me from the perspective of Cueto’s future is how violent his mechanics are. Obviously, because he’s so small he has to make up for his stature by putting an incredible amount of torque behind his pitches. Well, watching him repeat this motion over and over again worried me. It seems that he not only opens himself up to arm trouble (which seems almost inevitable given the combination of his mechanics, stature and manager) down the road, but perhaps some significant leg injuries as well. He looks to be literally trying to give it his all on every single pitch, and while it’s pretty amazing to watch right now, I’m more than a little concerned about his shelf life.

And speaking of lengthy shelf lives, Randy Johnson made his return on Monday night and with the exception of a rough second inning, looked pretty sharp. Of course, he did it against the pitiful San Francisco Giants lineup, but the Big Unit was still pretty impressive. If you take out the second inning, in which Johnson was charged with three unearned runs thanks heavily to a Mark Reynolds fielding error and a two-out bloop single that knocked in two runs, Johnson allowed just one hit while striking out five and walking three. He wasn’t throwing particularly hard tonight, but was able to reach back for something extra a few times and get his fastball up around the 93 MPH mark with fair command when he needed it. He also mixed in a changeup at times to complement his trademark fastball-slider combination. Of the three pitchers I’ve mentioned, it was Johnson’s outing that I was most impressed by.

Monday’s Box Scores:
Detroit Tigers 11, Minnesota Twins 9

  • Detroit’s offense finally came alive, feasting on Minnesota’s bullpen for seven runs, six in the eighth inning, to rally to steal its third win of the season.

Boston Red Sox 6, Cleveland Indians 4

  • Not to be outdone, the Red Sox scored five runs in the final three innings, including three runs in the ninth against closer Joe Borowski (who, you may have heard, led the league in saves last year despite being a really bad pitcher) to snatch a victory from the Tribe. A two-run Manny Ramirez bomb was the difference.
  • David Ortiz singled twice in his return to the Boston lineup.

Baltimore Orioles 4, Toronto Blue Jays 3

  • The Blue Jays couldn’t quite muster the late-inning heroics of Detroit and Boston. An Alex Rios two-run homer cut Baltimore’s lead to one run, but Orioles closer George Sherrill hung on to strike out Shannon Stewart and get Gregg Zaun to line out to end it.

New York Yankees 8, Tampa Bay Rays 7

  • Robinson Cano’s pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning broke a 7-7 tie and would prove to be the game-winner for the Bronx Bombers.
  • The Yankees, who once led by a 7-1 score, saw their lead evaporate after Ian Kennedy departed after being struck in the hip with a line drive. Billy Traber and Brian Bruney threw batting practice for 1 2/3 innings before being replaced by Mariano Rivera, who picked up the save. Bruney was credited with the win thanks to Cano’s longball.
  • The Yankees were without relief ace Joba Chamberlain, who left the team to be with his father, who collapsed at his home Sunday night.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 7, Texas Rangers 4

  • Ervin Santana picked up his second road win of the season, which is already one more than his 2007 total (he went 1-10 a year ago) in the 7-4 win over Texas.

Oakland Athletics 2, Chicago White Sox 1

  • Greg Smith picked up his first Major League win by outdueling fellow lefty Mark Buerhle at U.S. Cellular Field.
  • If the season ended today (God forbid), these two teams would square off in the American League Division Series. (And would meet the winners of the Baltimore-Kansas City series in the ALCS.)
  • A.J. Pierzynski collected two more hits and is now batting .421.

Pittsburgh Pirates 6, Los Angeles Dodgers 4

  • Yes, even more late heroics: Nate McLouth delivered a three-run homer with two outs in the top of the ninth inning against Dodgers closer Takashi Saito to wrest the game away from Joe Torre’s club.

Kansas City Royals 5, Seattle Mariners 1

  • Zack Greinke improved to 3-0 and pitched his first career nine-inning complete game to lead the Royals to victory.
  • Leadoff hitter David DeJesus returned to Kansas City’s lineup after missing the team’s previous 11 games with an ankle injury.

San Francisco Giants 5, Arizona Diamondbacks 4

  • The Giants ran wild on catcher Robby Hammock and exploited Arizona’s shaky infield defense to deal the first-place Diamondbacks their second loss in a row.

Merrill Park Superstar vs. the NL Central Standings:
St. Louis Cardinals (9-4) .692
Milwaukee Brewers (8-4) .667
Chicago Cubs (7-5) .583
Merrill Park Superstar (99-95, 3-6 Monday) .510
Pittsburgh Pirates (6-6) .500
Cincinnati Reds (6-7) .462
Houston Astros ( 5-8 ) .385

TUESDAY PICKS:
Oakland Athletics over Chicago White Sox
Texas Rangers over Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Arizona Diamondbacks over San Francisco Giants
Seattle Mariners over Kansas City Royals
Philadelphia Phillies over Houston Astros
Toronto Blue Jays over Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox over Cleveland Indians
Minnesota Twins over Detroit Tigers
Atlanta Braves over Florida Marlins
New York Mets over Washington Nationals
New York Yankees over Tampa Bay Rays
Cincinnati Reds over Chicago Cubs
St. Louis Cardinals over Milwaukee Brewers
Colorado Rockies over San Diego Padres
Pittsburgh Pirates over Los Angeles Dodgers

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