Liriano expected to make debut Friday

Liriano expected to make debut Friday

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's game time for Francisco Liriano.

Following another successful batting practice session, the Twins left-hander is expected to make his debut in a Spring Training game on Friday.

He threw about 45 pitches in his session on Tuesday morning. And afterward, he reported that he feels ready for the next step in his progress.

"I didn't feel any pain, any soreness at all," Liriano said. "I feel real good."

Pitching coach Rick Anderson said that as long as Liriano doesn't suffer any setbacks, the plan is to have him pitch in one of the club's two split-squad games on Friday.

Anderson didn't get to see Liriano throw on Tuesday as the Twins were in St. Petersburg to face the Rays. Those who were on hand to watch Liriano's session were Minor League pitching coordinator Rick Knapp and bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau also stood behind the batting cage to watch Liriano, intrigued to see the lefty's progress.

Everyone seemed pleased by what they saw.

"For what we were hoping to accomplish, he did exactly was he was supposed to do," Knapp said. "This was one of the little tests along the way. The next one will be to pull the screens back and put fans in the stands. There is a different intensity level then."

While Friday will be his official debut since having Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in November 2006, it's not the first game action that Liriano has seen in recent weeks. The left-hander pitched in two games at the Twins Academy in the Dominican Republic shortly before arriving late to Spring Training due to visa troubles.

Still, the Twins have wanted to take things slow with Liriano at the start of camp. He's thrown four times since arriving in Fort Myers on Feb. 27, 10 days after pitchers and catchers originally reported.

In each time on the mound, Liriano has showed progress and that included Tuesday's batting practice session -- his second in the last three days. At the end of Liriano's 10-minute throwing session, the pitcher said he was pleased with the movement and location of his fastball and changeup.

But the one pitch he struggled to control at times was his slider.

"I feel a little different with my slider, like I'm sacred to throw it, let it go," Liriano said. "I'm going to take it easy and keep working on it to get better."

The slider is the one pitch that some baseball insiders linked to Liriano's elbow problems before the surgery. At times during his stellar 2006 rookie season, Liriano appeared to fall in love with his dominant slider -- throwing an extremely high number of the pitch in his outings. The problem is, it's a pitch which puts a lot of strain on the elbow.

Now Liriano said he's going to try to limit the number of sliders he throws. He's content on using it as more of an "out" pitch and relying more on his changeup.

Liriano has been working to develop his changeup even more so that he can rely on the pitch more frequently.

"That last year, I didn't use it at all, I would throw maybe five changeups in a game," Liriano said. "So I'm going to use my changeup more this time."

His increased focus on the changeup is not the only difference in Liriano. His mechanics aren't significantly altered, but the pitcher has worked to keep himself in better balance during his follow-through and reduce his somewhat violent arm motion.

Liriano said that on a scale of 1-10, he's throwing at about an "8" right now. He doesn't plan on pushing that level too much higher over the course of the spring, preferring instead to wait until the season starts for that.

"I'll save it for April," Liriano said. "I'll keep throwing like that through the whole spring and we'll see how it feels."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.