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Updated: May 21st, 2014 7:00pm
Morneau's rejuvenation is surprising; Liriano's rough start is not

Morneau's rejuvenation is surprising; Liriano's rough start is not

by Phil Mackey
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Based on the trajectory of these two players near the end of last season, it's a bit odd to see a rejuvenated Justin Morneau mashing with the Colorado Rockies and Francisco Liriano struggling - and winless through 10 starts - with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wait, no. Let me rephrase that.

Based on how punchless Morneau looked for much of the past four years, post-concussion, it's surprising -- and refreshing -- to see him with nine home runs and 32 RBIs already.

Liriano's struggles aren't particularly shocking for anyone who has followed his career path. At age 30, Liriano has yet to string together two good seasons in a row.

His dominating season in 2006 was followed by Tommy John surgery. After a few years of trying to find his way, Liriano was mostly lights-out again in 2010, posting a 3.62 ERA (2.66 FIP) while limiting the walks and striking out more than a batter per inning, but the free passes came back in droves and the ERAs bloated up over 5.00 in 2011 and 2012. Once again, Liriano flipped the switch in 2013 with the Pirates, posting a 3.02 ERA (2.92 FIP) with very similar peripheral numbers to his 2010 campaign, but through 10 starts this year he is 0-4 with a 4.86 ERA and 4.20 FIP.

It's also interesting to note Liriano, according to Fangraphs, is throwing the lowest percentage of fastballs (39%) of his career. 

When Liriano is on, he's one of the most difficult pitchers in baseball to hit. But he often has a tendency to lose confidence and forget that it's OK to give up some hits and runs once in a while. As someone with the Twins once put it to me, Liriano's response to adversity on the mound is to try even harder to miss bats, which leads to falling behind in counts... which leads to, "Bombs away!"

As for the 33-year-old Morneau, he stopped hitting left-handed pitching after his concussion in 2010. Constant nagging injuries to his wrist and other extremities didn't help either, but that lefty trend has shifted so far this year. In 50 plate appearances against lefties through the first two months, Morneau is hitting .300/.308/.480 with two home runs.

It remains to be seen if Morneau's rejuvenated bat will stay hot all season, but for now it's just fun to catch a glimpse of a guy who was baseball's best hitter in 2010 until a knee to the head altered his world.

Maybe we'll see him at Target Field in July.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd