Liriano retires long after his stylish start

January 17th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Francisco Liriano first established himself in the Majors with the Twins, he looked for all the world like a superstar in the making and gave fans around the Upper Midwest tantalizing visions of a future in which he might become an ace of dominant Minnesota rotations for years to come.

A decade and a half later, the 38-year-old left-hander is retiring from baseball following 14 seasons in MLB, as first reported by Robert Murray of FanSided. An early arm injury perhaps held Liriano back from fulfilling those sky-high expectations set in his 2006 rookie season, but he still overcame those challenges to forge a productive, lasting tenure in the big leagues.

"I have spent some time recently reflecting on my career and thinking about my future," Liriano told FanSided. "After many discussions with my family, friends, and others who care about me, I have decided to retire from professional baseball after a 20-year career.

"I want to thank all the coaches and fans in both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic who have supported me on my baseball journey."

Forever destined to be one of the most significant "what-if" players in Minnesota Twins history, Liriano arrived in the organization alongside pitchers Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser in the franchise-altering 2003 trade that sent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants. Following a cameo in '05, during which Liriano flashed his strikeout potential, his run for glory in '06 set him up as the finishing piece to one of the most unforgettable Twins teams of the 2000s.

Those '06 Twins had the American League Cy Young Award winner in Johan Santana, the AL Most Valuable Player in Justin Morneau, the AL batting champion in Joe Mauer, the most dominant closer in club history in Nathan and a full complement of effective relievers, run-producers and "Piranhas."

And then there was the rookie Liriano. After manager Ron Gardenhire moved Liriano to the starting rotation in mid-May, the then-22-year-old won 11 of his next 13 starts, including a streak of eight consecutive quality starts. Among all pitchers to throw at least 80 innings before the All-Star break, Liriano carried the best ERA (1.83) and WHIP (0.97).

"He's good, and he's only going to get better," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said then to the New York Times. "Right now, he's just throwing the ball, not going in and out. When he learns how to pitch, that's going to be sick. It's going to be fun to watch him pitch in about three or four years."

But then came the arm trouble.

They were first described as left forearm inflammation, then as elbow pain. The rookie who carried a 1.96 ERA into August and gave rotation-mate Santana a run for his money as the most dominant pitcher in the AL made two starts in the final two months of the season. He didn't pitch in the playoffs. The Twins were swept by the A's in the Division Series, and Liriano underwent Tommy John surgery.

His arm bounced back and he twice won a Comeback Player of the Year Award -- once in each league -- but he was never quite that untouchable again.

Liriano pitched for the Twins for five more seasons and threw a no-hitter against the White Sox in 2011 -- a six-walk, two-strikeout, 123-pitch affair -- before wearing five other uniforms. After a brief stint with the White Sox, he resurrected his career as a top-tier starter in Pittsburgh, where he started the Pirates’ first playoff series since 1992 and secured their first postseason series win since the '79 World Series.

Following a stint with Toronto, Liriano found his way to Houston, where he won his only World Series ring and made appearances against the Dodgers in Game 6 and the decisive Game 7 of the Fall Classic. That led to Detroit and another stint in Pittsburgh -- this time in the bullpen.

All told, Liriano went 112-114 with a 4.15 ERA, 1,815 strikeouts and 816 walks across 419 career appearances and 300 starts. He last pitched in 2019.

Around Twins territory, he'll forever be remembered for those magical months in '06 when anything seemed possible -- that still manifested into a lengthy, effective career in which he forged a place in several teams' enduring stories.

"I also want to thank my wife and kids for all their love. I’m going to miss playing, but I will stay close to the game as I work with my kids on their own baseball journey," he said to FanSided.

"Hopefully, there will be another Liri in MLB soon (no pressure)!"