Pirates name Francisco Liriano as opening day starter again
March 11, 2016 4:48 PM
Francisco Liriano pitches off the mound during morning workouts in Bradenton, Fla.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — For the third year in a row, left-hander Francisco Liriano will be the Pirates opening day starter, manager Clint Hurdle announced today. The Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals will square off April 3 at PNC Park in the first game of the 2016 major league season.
Liriano, 32, went 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA last season, the first year under his three-year, $39 million deal. He becomes the fifth Pirates pitcher to start on three consecutive opening days, joining Cy Blanton (1936-39), Bob Friend (1956-59, 1960-62), Bob Veale (1964-67) and Doug Drabek (1990-92).
Entering spring training, right-hander Gerrit Cole was the favorite to start opening day, as he went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA last season and finished fourth in National League Cy Young award voting. But the Pirates don’t want to rush Cole’s return from a ribcage injury suffered in January.
“We felt at this time, mapping Cole out and working with him, that it would be push,” Hurdle said. “It wouldn't be fair to him to try and push that deadline date on him.”
Cole will make his Grapefruit League debut Sunday in a spring-training game against the Detroit Tigers. Hurdle said Cole will be nearing the six-inning, 100-pitch mark by opening day. If all goes according to plan, Cole could be ready later in the first week of the season.
“Gerrit understands completely," Hurdle said. "He was all in on [the decision]. It goes back to taking care of what you want most first rather than what you might want right now, in the moment. ... He's in a good spot. A real good spot.”
Cole and Liriano were not available for comment Friday.
Should catcher Francisco Cervelli also start opening day, not only will it be a Francisco-Francisco battery for the second year in a row, it’ll be the first time since 1999 the Pirates had the same opening day pitcher-catcher battery in back-to-back seasons (pitcher Francisco Cordova and catcher Jason Kendall).
Infielder Jason Rogers, acquired in December from the Milwaukee Brewers, made a couple slick plays at third base during the Pirates’ 4-3 win Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays and seems to be settling in nicely after a some defensive play earlier in camp.
Rogers has primarily played first base the past few years. With the Pirates planning to platoon John Jaso and Michael Morse at first, Rogers’ best bet at steady playing time is to maximize his options as a defender.
“[This spring] is probably the most reps he’s gotten at third base in a long time,” Hurdle said of Rogers. “That adds to the comfort. We’ve told him we want to see him over there. We’ve seen him some at first, and we'll continue to get him back over there, but we want to see what we might have at third base to add to his versatility and the composition of the ball club."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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