DETROIT – As Francisco Liriano warmed up in the bullpen at Comerica Park Saturday, he felt tightness on the right side of his neck and upper back.
The left-hander pitched through it for two innings, but by the third the discomfort was becoming harder to ignore.
“It was getting worse the more I threw,” Liriano said.
Once they realized the extent of the soreness, the Blue Jays removed Liriano from the game and sent him back to the team hotel. The pain persisted, though, and Liriano had trouble sleeping on the affected area. He iced the area Sunday morning before meeting with a doctor and showed enough improvement that there’s no MRI scheduled.
He hasn’t been ruled out for Thursday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, but the Blue Jays aren’t listing him as their probable starter until they know more.
“Hard to tell right now,” Liriano said. “I just feel really sore and tight, so I have no idea what it is.”
Liriano, whose season ERA climbed to 6.04 Saturday, has previously had neck issues on his left side, but never on the right. He said this soreness isn’t related to the shoulder inflammation that sidelined him in May, but it was more than enough for him to exit his start against the Tigers early.
“He’s a warrior out there,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He tries to battle through things, but you don’t want to be too aggressive, especially when you’re not feeling right.”
Should the Blue Jays need a replacement for Liriano Thursday, their options would include Mike Bolsinger, who threw 75 pitches in relief of Liriano, and Cesar Valdez, who’s on the 40-man roster and has a 3.23 ERA at triple-A after allowing one run in seven strong innings Friday.
Joe Biagini recently returned to the bullpen after starting 11 games for the Blue Jays, but it’d be asking a lot of the 27-year-old to have him start just as he’s readjusting to shorter stints. After struggling in consecutive bullpen outings leading up to the all-star break, Biagini impressed the Blue Jays with a scoreless inning of relief Friday.
“I thought he looked like the old guy,” manager John Gibbons said. “His velocity was up … I think (Friday) was a big night for him to get back in there and gain some confidence.”
The Blue Jays expect to get bullpen reinforcements soon, with Joe Smith slated to re-join the club after one final rehab outing with Buffalo. Smith had a 3.41 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 31.2 innings before hitting the disabled list, so his presence should help the Blue Jays navigate the late innings. He’s one of the club’s better trade chips so a return to the big-leagues would give the front office more options.
J.P. Howell’s also rehabbing with the Bisons, but the left-hander doesn’t appear to be in the club’s immediate plans.
“I don’t know yet,” Gibbons said. “I don’t know if he’s ready yet or not.”