TORONTO -- Francisco Liriano's return to Toronto's starting rotation brought a level of uncertainty on Friday night in the Blue Jays' 7-5 win over the Yankees, but the veteran left-hander quickly showed that he was back as an improved version of his 2017 self.Prior to hitting the DL earlier this
TORONTO -- Francisco Liriano's return to Toronto's starting rotation brought a level of uncertainty on Friday night in the Blue Jays' 7-5 win over the Yankees, but the veteran left-hander quickly showed that he was back as an improved version of his 2017 self.
Prior to hitting the DL earlier this month, Liriano had performances ranging from difficult to dominant. Friday night's win over the Yankees wasn't flawless, but with Liriano working around his jams instead of sinking deeper into them, Toronto can now look to him as a source of stability in its rotation instead of another variable as the club continues to work back toward full health.
"I thought he was really good," said manager John Gibbons. "He had a little tough patch early on when he lost the strike zone, but I thought as the outing went along, he got better."
After activating J.A. Happ and now Liriano, the Blue Jays' rotation is short just Aaron Sanchez, who is expected to throw for the first time on Sunday as he deals with another blister on his pitching hand. Joe Biagini has filled in admirably, but Liriano's successful return lessens Toronto's need to lean on its depth.
"I didn't feel any pain and I don't feel fatigued at all," Liriano said through a translator. "Everything worked well for me today. The slider and the curveball were working good. [Josh Donaldson] made a great play at third base, and the team played really great defense behind me today, so everything went well."
Liriano's average velocities are still marginally down from 2016 to '17, but they dipped lower in his prior outing, against Cleveland, in which he lasted just two innings and allowed seven runs. His four-seam fastball and slider ticked back up on Friday as he found the zone more consistently, and kept himself out of harm's way until his last pitch of the ballgame, a two-run home run to MLB home run leader Aaron Judge in the sixth.
The home run ball to Judge came on a 90.2-mph two-seam fastball that hung out over the heart of the plate, but otherwise, Liriano did well to mix his locations and velocities around the zone. In past starts, Liriano was not pounding the zone enough to get hitters to chase when he pitched outside of it, leading to 16 walks over his last 16 innings entering Friday.
"He hadn't thrown a lot since he went on the DL," said Gibbons. "Liriano's always going to run into some spells where he loses the strike zone because of the way he flies off the mound, but he gathered himself and ended up making some big pitches along the way."
Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.