Pirates spring training: Liriano on mend, ready for switch to National League

Christmas Day accident curtails preparation, but he still is excited to be at camp

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Christmas Day sailed downhill quickly for Francisco Liriano.

First the left-hander discovered he had broken his right humerus, the bone in the upper arm. Then he had to call his agent, Greg Genske, and inform him that he would not be making the flight to Pittsburgh, where he was scheduled to take a physical with the Pirates before signing a contract with the team, the following day.

"At first he thought I was joking," Liriano said. "It was sad and disappointing a little bit. Things happen. I wish I could take it back."

Spring Training Report: Pitcher Kyle McPherson

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Kyle McPherson talks to the media from the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/12/2013)

Liriano reported to the Pirates spring training facility Monday, along with most of the pitchers and catchers, without a cast on the arm, but he had a Velcro brace. The bone fractured close to the elbow, and the area was still slightly swollen. Liriano shook hands with his left hand.

While heading to play with his children on Christmas Day, Liriano said, he slammed his right arm into a door to startle them. He didn't feel much pain at first, he said, and started to play with them, but about 20 minutes later he told his wife he needed to go to the hospital.

"I was surprised when I got to the hospital, they told me it was broken," Liriano said.

Liriano said he did not know the origin of a Spanish-language report in a Dominican Republic newspaper saying he broke his arm in a fall in his bathroom. He said he did not talk to anyone in the Dominican Republic about the injury.

Liriano had to take about four weeks off after the injury, he said. Two weeks ago, he resumed running, playing catch and lower-body exercise. He will wear the brace for another two weeks and said he expects to return to 100 percent in about a month.

Liriano might still need to strengthen his arm and build up his pitch and inning counts before he is ready to join the major league team. Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson and Jonathan Sanchez, among others, will compete for the final rotation spot if Liriano starts the season on the disabled list.

The broken arm put Liriano's original contract, a two-year, $12.75 million agreement, in limbo. Late Friday night, the Pirates made official a new contract with Liriano that protects them in case Liriano misses significant time because of his broken arm.

Liriano has a one-year contract with $1 million guaranteed and the chance earn as much as $3.75 million more, depending on how much time he spends on the disabled list because of his broken arm. The Pirates hold an $8 million club option on him for 2014 that could also vest at $5 million, $6 million or $8 million, again depending time spent on the DL in 2013 because of the arm injury.

Liriano worried at one point that the deal would fall apart entirely, he said, but he was excited to sign the revised contract.

"After that happens, I'll take anything," he said. "I just want to play for anybody."

Actually, Liriano said, he wanted to join the National League. He likes to hit, but spent seven major league seasons in the American League, most of them with the Minnesota Twins.

"I was ready to go to the National League, a different division," Liriano said. "I was with the Twins for six years. That's a long time. They knew me and I knew most of the hitters. I was ready for something new."

Liriano compiled a 5.34 ERA and 87 walks in 156 2/3 innings in 2012, which he split between the Twins and Chicago White Sox. The Twins removed Liriano from the rotation after he had a 9.45 ERA and allowed 19 walks to go with 21 strikeouts in his first six starts last season.

He is two seasons removed from 2010, his best full year in the majors. Liriano struck out 201 in 191 2/3 innings.

Garrett Jones, who played with Liriano in the Twins' minor league organization, remembered a younger Liriano who possessed top-notch velocity in addition to his slider.

"He threw hard," Jones said. "He was like 94-98, 90-91 mile-an-hour slider. He would be unhittable at times. You could tell he was going to be one of the best."

Liriano's average fastball velocity in the majors peaked at 94.2 mph in 2010, according to Fangraphs.com, and he averaged 93.3 mph last season. Liriano had Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2006.

"He's a good guy, just a quiet leader," Jones said. "Just gets his work done and comes to compete. We became friends, and he's going to fit in great with us."

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @BrinkPG.


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