Liriano's execution missing in first start

Liriano's execution missing in first start

ST. PETERSBURG -- Francisco Liriano felt one of the best things about Spring Training was whenever his mechanics got out of whack he was able to make a quick adjustment and get back on track. That ability went missing during his first game of the regular season.

Liriano was all over the place in his season debut. He threw more balls than strikes, allowed five runs on three hits and four walks while retiring just one batter. It was the shortest start of his career and put Toronto in a huge hole in what was a 10-8 loss to the Rays on a Friday night that almost every member of the pitching staff would like to forget.

This problem isn't exactly uncharted territory for the veteran lefty. There's an occasional tendency to overthrow and for his shoulder to fly open during the delivery. When that happens, commanding the zone becomes next to impossible. He experienced that last year in Pittsburgh and it happened all over again at Tropicana Field.

"I think it was a little bit of everything," Liriano said after he could not make it out of the first inning for just the second time in 257 career starts. "Overthrowing, mechanically, missing my spot. I just didn't execute pitches. That's the main thing. You have to execute pitches when you have men on base. I was getting behind in the count a lot and I didn't execute pitches."

Liriano's upside is well known and when he's on, you'd be hard-pressed to find another starter with his type of dominant stuff. The issue is that the command often goes missing and when he's not throwing enough pitches near the strike zone, it makes it much easier for hitters to sit back and wait him out.

From 2015-16, Statcast™ tracked only 32.5 percent of Liriano's pitches as being within the strike zone, the second-lowest rate among pitchers with at least 3,000 total pitches. Liriano did raise his zone rate to 37.0 percent after being traded from Pittsburgh to Toronto at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline. On Friday, he threw just 13 of his 35 pitches for strikes and that's counting the ones outside the zone that Rays hitters swung at.

"To be honest, I don't even know," Liriano said when asked what happened. "I didn't make any pitches and I was kind of lost out there. Probably trying to do too much. Didn't make any pitches when I needed to. Just one of those games when you go out there and you don't even know what you're doing."

Liriano was far from being the only Blue Jays pitcher who struggled on Friday night. Lefty reliever J.P. Howell didn't retire a single batter as he allowed two hits and a pair of walks. On a night when Toronto used five relievers, right-hander Joe Smith was the only one who didn't surrender at least one earned run.

Toronto now will be forced to make a roster move prior to Saturday night's rematch after its bullpen tossed 7 2/3 innings. In a cruel twist of fate, Dominic Leone, who was arguably the most effective pitcher on Friday, likely will have to be sent out to make room for a fresh arm.

"We're going to need to do something," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "No doubt."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.