Pirates notebook: Left-hander relishes opening day start

BRADENTON, Fla. — The first time Francisco Liriano started on opening day, for the Minnesota Twins in 2009, he was Plan B. Scott Baker was scheduled to take the mound, but he got hurt 10 days before opening day.

Liriano is now the Pirates’ first choice after achieving ace status last season, effectively shelving the two subpar seasons before 2013.

“I’m very happy for the opportunity to pitch opening day,” Liriano said. “I don’t know. I’m just excited and can’t wait.”

Spring Training Report: Pitcher Francisco Liriano

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano talks to the media from the Pirates' spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/19/2014)

Liriano went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and struck out 163 batters in 161 innings last season. Voters listed him on National League Cy Young ballots even though he didn’t make a start until May 11. Manager Clint Hurdle made the announcement during a full-squad meeting before the first full workout Tuesday.

“I was kind of shy and a little bit embarrassing,” Liriano said. “But it was a good feeling at the same time. All the guys said congratulations to me. It’s a great feeling.”

The honor means more to Liriano after the way he entered last spring training. His non-throwing arm was in a sling and he couldn’t start the season on time.

“It’s not easy to rehab being hurt a lot of times,” he said. “Coming in this year healthy and ready to go, that’s a great feeling. Thank God for the second chance.”

Liriano changed nothing this offseason. He returned to his home in the Dominican Republic and “worked out a lot,” throwing bullpen sessions and long-tossing. When asked about added pressure as the lone ace atop the rotation after A.J. Burnett’s departure, he demurred.

“We got Wandy [Rodriguez] back,” Liriano said. “He’s been around for a long time. [Edinson] Volquez too. Not just me. Charlie [Morton] is healthy too. I think we got pretty good starting pitchers. We just got to go out there and play hard and give everything we can.”

Nutting likes replay changes

Chairman Bob Nutting praised the three-man committee tasked with creating the guidelines for expanded instant replay, which will go into effect this season.

“I have faith that they’re moving in a good direction,” Nutting said Wednesday. “I think it’s going to improve the game.”

Former manager Tony La Russa, MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz studied the issue during the past several months. MLB owners approved expanded replay, which will put the decisions in the hands of umpires in New York City reviewing video and encompass almost every play on the field, in January at the owners meetings.

Snider back in cage

Travis Snider, who needed three stitches on the tip of a finger on his left hand after cutting himself while making breakfast, took swings in the batting cage Wednesday. He still is not throwing.

Pitchers throw ‘live’

Pitchers began throwing “live” batting practice or pitching near full-speed from behind a protective screen while batters stood in the box, during Wednesday’s workout.

“I just liked the rhythm, the intensity, the focus of the guys I saw take the mound,” Hurdle said.

Liriano, Morton, Volquez and Gerrit Cole, were among the 14 pitchers to throw.

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

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