Francisco Liriano did not have his command on Friday night in Tampa and exited the game in the first inning, with just one out recorded, having allowed five runs on three hits and four walks.
Liriano’s notorious Mr. Hyde incarnation emerged for the first time in a Blue Jays uniform, quickly erasing the two run lead the Jays had jumped out to, forcing the bullpen into action, and putting his club in a difficult spot.
That’s it. That was the story of the game. Or, at least, it was the story of the early part of the game (the Jays are currently in the process of chipping away at Tampa’s lead as I write this)[and they’re in the process of pissing away the lead they successfully chipped back into their column as I edit].
More accurately: it was the story of the early part of the game here in the land of people equipped to handle a 162 game baseball season without melting our keyboard with the pure hot scent of fucking stupidity.
Elsewhere things got a bit… shall we say, salty? (Oh, wait. I already did in the title. Well… whatever.)
That is, of course, because the man behind the plate during Liriano’s meltdown wasn’t Russell Martin — the former battery-mate of Liriano’s from his successful days in Pittsburgh, who often, and perhaps rightly, gets credit for helping the pitcher turn around his terrible 2016 season after he was picked up by the Jays in a mid-season trade — but backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
People genuinely lost their goddamned minds about this, acting as though John Gibbons had violated some kind of sacred bond between Martin and Liriano and knowingly put his team in a horrible position by taking away Liriano’s super magical target man.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to realize how utterly fucking ridiculous this is.
Obviously there is a mental aspect of pitching. Obviously comfort with a catcher isn’t nothing. Obviously guys are going to sequence differently. Obviously Martin is going to block balls better that Saltalamacchia, and steal away strikes better — though the latter especially is a skill that shows up over long stretches, not in one inning. Obviously Salty is a backup catcher for a reason.
Absolutely none of that whatsoever has anything to do with Liriano not being able to find the strike zone or grooving pitches the times when he did.
At the end of a start — or, better still, at the end of several starts, or at the end of a season — you might be able to sit back and look at things that took place and see some separation between how well a pitcher worked with one catcher over another. Some of it might be tangible, some of it might be luck. At the very least, what we do know is that PUTTING ANOTHER CATCHER BACK THERE IS NOT AKIN TO DROPPING A BOMB INTO A PITCHER’S LAP, YOU BLAME-DESPERATE DIPSHIT HUMPS!
Fun fact: When Liriano rediscovered his form in Pittsburgh in 2013, his ERA was a half run better in his seven starts with Tony Sanchez behind the plate than it was in his 16 with Martin catching him. And when he was really good for the Pirates in 2015, Martin was playing for the Blue Jays! *COUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHHH*
EVEN MORE FUN FACT: In Liriano’s sparkling Spring Training that just ended he pitched 18 innings of Grapefruit League action. Juan Graterol caught 1.2 of those. Russell Martin caught 6.2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia caught 9.2.
Yet the way you hear some people talk about it, Martin magical beast willing Liriano to throw filthy strikes back there, or some kind of puppet master. The dumbs were so fast to point the finger at Saltalamacchia and at Gibbons for putting him in there that this must be what they think. Liriano has no agency! His success or failure is based only on whether or not the magic man is behind the plate. And John Gibbons must be a complete moron for failing to see it.
No! Bless John Gibbons for not falling for this utter, utter superstitious absurdity.
The thing about Martin potentially unlocking something in Liriano that he’d lost in his rough 2016 in Pittsburgh was never about magic. Give Russell a little more credit. Much of it is about adjustments. About seeing things in his delivery or where he toes the rubber or how he can better attack hitters. And about working with him — not just in-game, but on game day and in the overall.
Again, this isn’t to say that in-game stuff doesn’t matter. Being able to help Liriano make an adjustment mid-inning might be something Martin can do a little better than Salty. The ability to say the right thing to get him refocused could absolutely be something Martin can do better than Salty, and maybe — maybe — he could have helped Liriano pull himself out of the fire better than Salty did, or the visit from Pete Walker was able to. It’s just…
It’s just… I get that you’re mad, but could you maybe take a second and not be so fucking stupid?
Think about how the pitcher-catcher relationship actually works. Think about how it goes beyond just what you see on the field, how it isn’t magic, and how all kinds of he granular and intangible things might make one catcher a better receiver for a given pitcher — or maybe even all pitchers — over the course of time. Then think about how that stuff, unless you’re J.P. Arencibia failing to catch a knuckleball, isn’t going to explode into clusterfuck the minute the wrong guy is wearing the goddamn gear. Aaaaand think about how — as much as I hate to fucking break it to you — backup catchers do have to play sometimes.
Fans will universally agree with that statement riiiiiight up to the point where “sometimes” becomes “tonight.” And when things go badly, oh boy do the hindsight clowns try real fucking hard to come out. But the thing is: they’ve got nothing on this one. Absolutely nothing.
Francisco Liriano didn’t have his command on Friday night in Tampa. That’s the story.