PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- This spring has been full of new experiences for Francisco Liriano. He’s pitched more often than ever. He’s had to compete for a job. He’s worked out of the bullpen. On Saturday, Liriano should find out if all of that will lead him back to familiar
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- This spring has been full of new experiences for Francisco Liriano. He’s pitched more often than ever. He’s had to compete for a job. He’s worked out of the bullpen. On Saturday, Liriano should find out if all of that will lead him back to familiar surroundings in Pittsburgh.
The veteran left-hander, in camp on a non-roster Minor League deal, said Friday that the Pirates will inform him on Saturday whether he will make their Opening Day roster as a reliever. Liriano’s contract included a clause that would have allowed him to opt out on Wednesday, but Pittsburgh’s front office asked him to push back that deadline.
“I told them I’m OK with that,” Liriano said. “I’ve got to wait until [Saturday] to see what happens.”
It’s been a long time since Liriano, a 13-year veteran and the Pirates’ Opening Day starter from 2014-16, has had to fight for a roster spot in Spring Training. Even he wasn’t sure on Friday if he’s earned a spot in the Bucs’ bullpen or not.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” he said. “They haven’t told me at all about that. We’ll see what happens.”
On Saturday, the Pirates must commit to putting Liriano on their active roster, release him or offer him a retention bonus if he goes to the Minors. However, Liriano did not sound interested in reporting to Triple-A Indianapolis if there are other opportunities available.
“Not really right now. I feel like I can still pitch in the big leagues,” he said. “It’s Spring Training for me. The last 12 years in spring, I came to get myself ready -- not really pitching in spring to put numbers down. It’s something new for me. I’m trying to do better.”
Liriano has had an uneven camp. He allowed only one run on two hits and one walk in five innings over his first four outings. Then Liriano lost his release point and walked four batters without recording an out in Tampa, Fla., on March 10. Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage identified a flaw in Liriano’s delivery and encouraged him to stay back over the rubber, rather than rushing his body down the mound.
“It’s the frame of mind. He wants so badly to make this club,” Searage said. “All he has to do is just pitch and do his thing, and he’ll be fine … Just trust your stuff.”
Searage offered that reminder again during the Pirates’ 3-2 loss to the Rays on Friday at Charlotte Sports Park. Liriano worked around a two-out single and a walk in the second inning, then struggled in the third. Brandon Lowe doubled, Yandy Diaz walked, Avisail Garcia hit an RBI single and then Kevin Kiermaier walked to load the bases with nobody out.
Liriano composed himself and struck out Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames, but the Bucs then brought in right-hander Geoff Hartlieb, who induced an inning-ending groundout.
“I was trying to overthrow and trying to do too much instead of just [making] one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time. I was rushing a little bit,” Liriano said. “I’m not really happy with that outing today. I think I should have done better the first inning, too. Just walked a couple guys. I’m not happy when I walk a couple [of] guys like that.”
Liriano still has the stuff to be an effective left-handed reliever, and the Pirates could use someone with his experience and deception to bolster their middle-relief corps. Their decision regarding Liriano will answer one question about the composition of their bullpen, but they still must narrow down a field of eight potential candidates to fill three spots.
“I’m glad they’re making it tough on us,” Searage said. “But I’m going to leave that up to Neal [Huntington] and Clint [Hurdle], then I’ll throw my two cents in and I’ll roll with it.”
Around the horn
• Jung Ho Kang, named the Pirates’ starting third baseman on Monday, started at shortstop on Friday for the first time this spring. He played seven innings there and went 2-for-3 with a double off the wall in right-center field, also hitting his first single of the Grapefruit League season. Kang likely will only play shortstop in emergency situations this season.
“We talked about it with the manager,” Kang said through interpreter Jeffrey Kim. “Yeah, we can play [shortstop] if the team needed. There should be no problem.”
• Pablo Reyes, competing for a spot on the Opening Day bench, went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI on Friday, while playing the whole game in center field.
• Hurdle spent Friday at the Pirate City complex, part of the Pirates’ practice of sending each coach for a “camp day” at Minor League Spring Training. Bench coach Tom Prince managed the Bucs’ game against the Rays.
The Pirates will split up for a pair of games on Saturday. At home, right-hander Jordan Lyles will start against the Phillies, with the entire “A” bullpen -- Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez -- scheduled to pitch after him at LECOM Park. Lyles remains the presumptive favorite to secure the final spot in Pittsburgh’s rotation, but the Bucs have not officially named their fifth starter.
Meanwhile, Jameson Taillon will tune up for his Opening Day start by facing the Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla. Bullpen candidates Rookie Davis and Tyler Lyons are also slated to pitch at JetBlue Park. Both games are set for 1:05 p.m. ET. The home game will be televised on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, and the road game will air on KDKA-FM and the Pirates Radio Network.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.