The Sporting News honored Francisco Liriano on Monday for his resurgent season by naming him the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
“It’s like a cherry on top,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said by phone Monday. “It’s for somebody who’s worked his butt off and has been so disciplined through the course of the year.”
Pirates setup man Mark Melancon finished second, and outfielder Marlon Byrd, who joined the Pirates from the New York Mets in a late-season trade, came in third in balloting by major league players.
“It’s got to be gratifying that the guys on the other side of the field were impressed enough to even consider you, and to go out and compete like he did, and show everybody that he’s back,” Searage said of Liriano.
Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 161 innings. He made 26 starts after returning in May from an injury to his right arm. The biggest improvement came with Liriano’s command. He dropped his walks per nine innings from 5.0 to 3.5.
“You get better failing,” Searage said. “You learn about yourself. You learn about what your body can do and where you can go with it. Him being probably the most mature in his life that he ever has been is going to be able to take those experiences and build on that and be able to hold onto it.”
Liriano had a 5.34 ERA in 2012 while with the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox. He allowed 19 home runs and had a 1.47 WHIP. In the offseason, he broke the humerus of his right — non-pitching — arm when, according to Liriano, he slammed it into a door to scare his children.
Though he and the Pirates originally agreed to terms on a two-year contract, the injury occurred before he passed his physical. The parties restructured the contract to guarantee Liriano only $1 million in 2013, down from the $12.75 million over two years in the original negotiations, and gave him performance bonuses and a vesting option for 2014.
“It’ll be nice to have him in spring training and in the fold that way so we can get him ready to be there on day one,” Searage said.
After allowing eight home runs in 45 innings with a 6.20 ERA in 2012, a season that included a demotion to the minors, Melancon compiled a 1.39 ERA in 71 innings and struck out 70 batters for the Pirates after being acquired in a trade with Boston.
Byrd hit .210 with one home run in 2012, but hit .291 with 24 homers this season for the Mets and the Pirates.
New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, whose 2012 season was cut short because of a knee injury, won the AL award.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.