Blue Jays’ Liriano boosts trade value with stellar showing vs. Angels

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Francisco Liriano throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning of their AL baseball game in Toronto on Saturday, July 29, 2017. (Fred Thornhill/CP)

TORONTO – Five days after making what might have been his last start with the Toronto Blue Jays, Francisco Liriano once again took the mound Saturday for what might have been his last start with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The left-hander delivered with some of his finest work in a while during a 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk over six strong innings, the damage against him coming during his sixth and final frame while working through the lineup a third time.

Over his 87 pitches, 52 strikes, he generated seven swinging strikes, sat 93.1 mph with his two-seamer, and 92.6 with his four-seamer, getting up to 95.4.

“I thought he was great, really, almost as good, probably, as I’ve ever seen him here,” said manager John Gibbons. “He was under control, sticking it pretty good on both sides of the plate, good breaking ball, good changeup. They just battled him there a bit in the sixth, but he was really good.”

Now, it’s decision time for teams considering the 33-year-old – scouts from the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers were in attendance while the Kansas City Royals have shown interest – as Liriano won’t pitch again before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

They’ve gotten all the looks they’re going to get and he’s performed well given the background noise.

“I don’t pay attention to those kind of things, I try to control whatever I can control and my main goal is to stay with the team here,” Liriano said through interpreter Josue Pelley. “I don’t listen to rumours or anything like that, I’m just trying to do my best out here and my best for the team.”

Between five strong innings of two-hit, two-run ball against the Athletics and keeping the Angels under his thumb Saturday, Liriano certainly showed what he can bring to the table.

And his experience working out of the Blue Jays bullpen last fall during the wild-card win over the Baltimore Orioles may add to his appeal despite an up and down season that included a stint on the disabled list.

“The main reason (for the inconsistency) is staying healthy,” said Liriano. “I’ve had problems with my shoulder, my back, my neck, so when you go out there and you don’t feel 100 per cent it’s always hard to battle. It’s just trying to stay healthy.”

During his last two outings, Liriano said he’s felt, “way better physically, and now it’s just trying to locate my fastball. When all those things are working together, I feel pretty great out there.”

Liriano and fellow pending free agent Joe Smith, the right-handed set-up man who retired Mike Trout and struck out Albert Pujols during a scoreless eighth against the Angels, are the Blue Jays most likely to be dealt ahead of the deadline. Marco Estrada, whose contract also expires at season’s end, is also in play but is garnering less interest at the moment.

The potential return for any of them isn’t expected to dramatically shift the franchise’s fortunes, but rather help better position the club for another run next year. What the final 57 games of this season look like is unclear, but they may not include Troy Tulowitzki, who was scheduled to undero an MRI Saturday afternoon on his sprained right ankle and Gibbons saying the belief is he won’t be back any time soon.

Recently acquired utilityman Rob Refsnyder was recalled from triple-A Buffalo and the Blue Jays want to take a look at him at second base, where he was playing the with the Bisons. Gibbons said he may also get some time at third and in the outfield, too.

“I’ve been working hard with the coaching staff at Buffalo on second base,” said Refsnyder. “Before that I moved around so right now I’m most comfortable at second base.”

Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney will handle the duties at shortstop during Tulowitzki’s absence, and both made things happen at the plate Saturday, Barney’s double driving in Miguel Montero on a hit-and-run in the fifth before Goins’ double brought him in.

Josh Donaldson opened the scoring in the fourth when he tagged from second to third on Steve Pearce’s liner to right and came home when Andrelton Simmons fired a relay into the stands.
Montero’s two-run homer in the sixth put the Blue Jays up 5-3 after the Angels knotted things up in the top of the frame.

Cruising through five on a single hit allowed, Liriano allowed three of the first four hitters to reach in the sixth, including a Trout RBI single. Pujols followed with a walk and after a C.J. Cron strikeout, Liriano hung an 0-2 slider to Simmons, who laced it to centre for a two-run single that made it 3-3.

He recovered to get Kole Calhoun to fly out to end the inning, his 87th and final pitch before a crowd of 46,502.

“I know I haven’t been here for a long time, but I feel great how they treat me here, I like my teammates, the organization,” said Liriano. “I cannot control what’s going to happen next. I think we have a great team this year, next year but for me it’s just to come out here and try to compete and do my best.”

Liriano was denied the win when Roberto Osuna blew his fifth save and coughed up a three-spot in the ninth, the latest trying moment in a trying season that’s led to a looming step back rather than a push forth at the deadline.


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