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Liriano episode may teach a lesson about caution
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published September 17, 2006
It is perhaps the ultimate misfortune in the game: a gifted young pitcher who never meets his promise because of an arm injury before his prime.
The Minnesota Twins are lucky. Rookie Francisco Liriano helped guide their pennant surge, but when the 22-year-old All-Star left-hander went down with left elbow pain, Minnesota still maintained the majors' best record since June 8.
Liriano returned Wednesday against Oakland, and all was well until he heard a pop in his left arm as he delivered a fastball that skipped into the dirt to Bobby Kielty. An MRI exam showed nothing new. Liriano has no structural damage, just an ulnar collateral ligament strain.
Still, when they likely need their youngster the most - in the middle of a race that has them entering this weekend two games behind the AL Central-leading-yet-slumping Tigers - the Twins made the right move, shutting down Liriano for the rest of the season (postseason included).
"Let's take the mystery out of this thing," general manager Terry Ryan told reporters Thursday, "and just take for granted we're going to get him ready for 2007. That's tough for me to say. He helped us get to this point. Now we've got to make sure we take care of him."
The episode sent reverberations throughout the majors regarding how soon is too soon to bring back a young pitcher with arm trouble. The game owns its share of talented young arms, possibly now more than ever. The game is different now. The arms are stronger, but that also puts more stress on young joints.
Oakland manager Ken Macha watched Liriano walk off the mound Wednesday, and it gave the A's cause to reconsider their plans to bring back 24-year-old Rich Harden, who has missed all but six starts this season with injuries, most recently a sprained left elbow ligament.
"That's an interesting thought, I'll leave it at that," Macha said.
Red Sox rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon also took notice of Liriano's injury. The 25-year-old said Friday that he's done for the season after shoulder soreness that has shelved him since Sept. 1.
"I think it's smart," said Papelbon, who added he might switch to Boston's rotation next season. "The thing with Liriano has really opened up our training staff's eyes, and a lot of people's eyes in the major leagues."
The Devil Rays have taken their own precautions, all but saying they've shut down 22-year-old ace Scott Kazmir - out with a sore left shoulder - for the season when he didn't feel comfortable after just nine throws in a recent rehab session.
TOOTING HIS OWN HORN: It's hard to imagine now - as Ryan Howard continues to post one of the top homer-hitting seasons in history - but former Phillies general manager Ed Wade said last week that Philadelphia tried to shop Howard near the 2004 trade deadline, but teams weren't sold that he would become a formidable big-league hitter.
One GM compared Howard to a modern-day Sam Horn, a much-hyped yet underachieving power hitter for the Red Sox with the same beefy build, Wade said.
"One club told me that lots of guys hit home runs at Double A," said Wade, now a professional scout for the Padres.
"The perception from the outside was that people must have been knocking the doors down trying to get him," added Phillies assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle. "Well, reality was, nobody was knocking down our doors."
Howard leads the majors with 56 home runs.
AS THE PAPI TURNS: A day after Boston's David Ortiz said he would be hurt in MVP voting by the fact he's a designated hitter and claimed that Derek Jeter didn't have the numbers to be MVP, Ortiz backpedaled, mending fences with the Yankees shortstop.
"I love watching Derek Jeter play," Ortiz said. "I'm one of his biggest fans. He plays the game, he leaves everything on the field. I don't think there's a player that can say anything about Derek Jeter."
ROYALS FIGHTING BACK: Tuesday's dugout fight between pitcher Runelvys Hernandez and catcher John Buck - reportedly induced by a pitch-call disagreement - preceded the lowly Royals' first road sweep since July 11-13, 2003. "We've been playing well," manager Buddy Bell said after Wednesday's win over Cleveland. "I don't have any complaints right now. Tonight, we won the game and didn't have any brawls. So that's progress, pal."
QUOTEBOOK: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on facing Twins ace and fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana: "They have one guy there we have to kidnap. Maybe poison him, give him some Venezuelan food." ... "I know if you're from New Mexico, you're a cowboy, and cowboys are tough," said Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla on teammate Cody Ross, who was bloodied when hit by a pitch in the mouth this season but didn't miss a game. ... Phillies manager Charlie Manuel on his team's lack of urgency in the wild-card race: "We could be the Houston Astros of last year. That's the way I'm thinking, but I don't know if they are."
NUMBERS GAME: Telling Tigers' stat: They've opened their past four series heading into the weekend 4-0, but they are 0-8 in subsequent games in those series. ... After hitting above .300 for the season's first five months, Pirates infielder and NL batting title contender Freddy Sanchez was hitting just .275 in September going into Saturday. ... Recent Rangers acquisition Carlos Lee hit a pair of homers against Detroit on Wednesday, but before that he had only four homers in 174 at-bats with the Rangers. Texas officials believe Lee is out of shape - he is about 275 pounds - and that has led to his power outage.
MISCELLANY: Sidelined Indians slugger Travis Hafner, who is out the rest of the season with a non-displaced fracture in his right hand, won't have the chance to break Don Mattingly's record for grand slams in a season. Hafner and Mattingly both have six. ... The Astros said they hope to retain 40-year-old Craig Biggio so he can get his 3,000th hit in a Houston uniform next season. ... Dmitri Young, older brother of Rays outfielder Delmon Young, will not join another team this season after being released by Detroit on Wednesday.