Blue Jays hope Liriano continues to flourish

Post-trade, pitcher boosted by change of scenery, Martin's encouragement

Blue Jays hope Liriano continues to flourish

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Francisco Liriano was traded from the Pirates to the Blue Jays on Aug. 1, his uniform wasn't the only thing that changed.

For Pittsburgh, Liriano had a 5.46 ERA in 21 starts. With Toronto, he had a 2.92 ERA in 10 appearances, eight of them starts, one big reason why the Blue Jays made it to the postseason.

"It was just like a switch," Liriano said before Tuesday's workout. "Everything changed when I got here. Everything turned around for me like I wanted it to. I was throwing more strikes. My slider was sharper."

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Because Liriano pitched so well, the 33-year-old left-hander is being counted on as an important part of the Blue Jays' rotation in 2017, replacing veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. And Liriano is convinced he can pick up where he left off.

Liriano can't explain how he was able to turn his season around so dramatically. He mentioned that he walked fewer batters -- from 5.5 per nine innings with the Bucs to 2.9 after the trade -- but he just shrugged and smiled when asked if he knew why that happened.

Manager John Gibbons thinks it had a lot to do with being reunited with catcher Russell Martin, his Pirates teammate in 2013 and '14.

"Russ is very good at blocking balls and handling that low pitch," Gibbons said. "And when Liriano does that, bounces a lot of pitches, he gets a lot of strikeouts. His pitches run down low in the zone, and Russ is good at getting him strikes, when you talk about framing.

"And he just seemed to fit in. You see it time and time again. A change of scenery can do wonders for guys. Maybe a new voice. You may be hearing the same thing you heard somewhere else, but somebody else saying it might help."

Martin downplayed his role in Liriano's stunning reversal, saying all he did was try to help him regain his confidence.

"Cisco has tremendous talent, tremendous ability," Martin said. "But, just like anybody, you can get in funks. You can start losing confidence a little bit. And this is a mental game, right? Sometimes you just need somebody to believe in you.

"He wasn't where he wanted to be. But when I was catching him in the bullpen, there was the same power in the arm. The same snappiness on the breaking ball. The same deception on the changeup. I was just honest with him. 'Hey, man, there's nothing wrong with your stuff. You look just as good as you did when I caught you a couple years ago.' It's more the mental side of the game. He just needed a reminder that, 'Hey, you're good.'"

Said Liriano: "He's very smart, and I trust him. That made it easier for me. So I'm looking forward to the season. Mentally, I'm prepared. Physically, too. So I'm just looking forward, and we'll see what happens."

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.