Blue Jays replace Liriano with Barnes for remainder of ALDS

Francisco Liriano would leave the game after taking a Carlos Gomez line drive off the back of his head.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays replaced left-handed reliever Francisco Liriano with right-hander Danny Barnes on their ALDS roster Saturday, after Liriano suffered a concussion in the second game of his team’s series with the Texas Rangers.

Liriano suffered the concussion when he took a 102-mph Carlos Gomez liner off the back of his head in the eighth inning Friday afternoon. Liriano remained on his feet, watching the ball careen off his head and into centre field before running over to cover third base. He walked around the mound and spoke to teammates after the incident, and had a brief discussion with Blue Jays head trainer George Poulis before he was removed from the game.

Liriano walked off the field under his own power, but after the game he was loaded into an ambulance with his neck immobilized on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital for examination. Liriano was released from hospital shortly thereafter and cleared to fly back to Toronto with his team.

On Saturday, Liriano underwent a barrage of tests at Rogers Centre, which Poulis said “were all normal.” Poulis described Liriano’s injury as a “mild concussion” and said the team was very encouraged with how he felt Saturday.

Still, Liriano will have to miss at least seven days due to the injury, meaning the soonest he would be eligible to return to the roster would be for the second game of a potential ALCS if the Blue Jays are able to win one more game against the Rangers, who they currently lead, 2-0.

While players who are removed from a team’s roster during a post-season series are typically ineligible to return for the subsequent series, Major League Baseball recently altered its rules to allow players who suffer concussions to bypass that process as long as they sit out for a minimum of seven days.

Liriano will have to pass a litany of tests before he’s cleared to return to the Blue Jays, including a series of exertion tests that are meant to demonstrate whether there are any lingering effects of the concussion. If Liriano clears those tests, Blue Jays doctors will complete a return to play form, which must be reviewed and approved by MLB’s medical director for Liriano to return.

The imposing left-hander Liriano was a key starter for the Blue Jays after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Pirates along with two prospects in exchange for Drew Hutchison. The 32-year-old pitched to a 2.92 ERA in 10 appearances down the stretch (eight starts and two relief outings), posting a 9.5 K/9 and drastically reducing the inflated walk rate he posted with the Pirates from 5.5 BB/9 to 2.9.

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Barnes is highly regarded in the Blue Jays organization and had a spectacular minor-league season, working to a 0.73 ERA in 41 combined appearances between double-A and triple-A. He was recalled to the Blue Jays in August and pitched frequently in September, posting a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 major-league innings.

The Blue Jays are already without key setup man Joaquin Benoit, who tore his left calf only a week before the post-season. Liriano had taken over much of Benoit’s responsibility, and pitching late in close ball games for the Blue Jays. With those two unavailable, expect Brett Cecil and Joe Biagini to be relied upon even more in high leverage situations in late innings. Jason Grilli is also available as a setup man, and closer Roberto Osuna has been asked to pitch multiple innings often of late.

Of course, if the Blue Jays defeat the Rangers in Game 3 Sunday, the club will have the benefit of four days off ahead of Friday’s ALCS opener, which will be played in either Cleveland or Boston. If that happens and Liriano clears all of his concussion tests, it’s possible he’ll only miss two games.

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