Road back to Majors has been a long one for Liz

Road back to Majors has been a long one for Liz

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Radhames Liz hasn't yet made it all the way back to the Major Leagues. But on Thursday, he at least made it back to his last Major League portal.

Liz started and went the first two innings of the Pirates' 6-4 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium -- his first Grapefruit League start since March 5, 2009 when it was for the Orioles, with whom a month later he would make his most recent big league appearance.

That's a long road to travel just to get back to where you began, but the amiable 31-year-old Dominican stressed he's not the same guy.

"It's real exciting to be back. I worked hard to be here," Liz said. "My mental approach is different. Those days, I didn't know what I was doing, just trying to throw hard. Now I'm mentally strong, listening to [pitching coach Ray Searage] and making pitches I need to get the hitter out."

The pitching lines in his only two exhibition starts, six years apart, reveal a bizarre status quo. In the 2009 start, he pitched two-hit ball for two innings against the Marlins, allowing one run; Thursday, he pitched two-hit ball for two innings against the O's, allowing one run.

Between Major League shots, Liz has left footprints in the Minor League outposts of two big league organizations (San Diego and Toronto) and in Korea, where he spent 2011-13.

Everywhere, he has primarily been a starter, in 241 of his lifetime 271 pro appearances.

But, as he has been informed, the Pirates want to deploy him in long relief, and he's all smiles about that.

"I'm OK with that … it's still baseball," he said.

"We're taking a guy who has experience starting, and we're trying to transition him to long relief," manager Clint Hurdle confirmed.

The pitching smarts that take years to hone has made Liz quite an attractive offseason target for numerous teams. An interesting development for someone out of the limelight as long as he has been.

But straying from pure heat to using a sharp assortment led Liz to the sort of Dominican Winter League performance -- 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 0.93 WHIP -- that caught a lot of eyes.

"He understands the importance of not just relying on speed, and that's what he was able to do over the winter," Hurdle said. "He's got good life [to the fastball] when it's up in the zone, good sink when it's down, and can mix in a breaking ball. He's also got a changeup that he can use. He's got a three-pitch mix that can play very well."

Touching all the bases

• First: A few hours before connecting for his first homer of the spring off Orioles reliever Darren O'Day, Corey Hart had his first outfield workout. He'll get Friday off, and start Saturday at first base.

• Second: Gregory Polanco (0-for-2 with a walk) has one hit in his last 16 at-bats.

• Third: Infielder Justin Sellers went back to his California home on Wednesday to be on hand for the birth of his child; Sellers hasn't played since March 10 due to left Achilles discomfort.

• Home: Wednesday night's McKechnie Field crowd of 9,018 obliterated the previous house record by 430; during the 1996 season, the Bucs drew fewer than that to a dozen games in Three Rivers Stadium.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.