He'll be back. But when?
There's no reason to rush anything. With the starting rotation being generally impressive over the last three weeks, any sense of urgency the Twins might have felt early in June has likely been dulled. Livan Hernandez, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins have largely exceeded expectations on the whole, and with that luxury the organization is able to see Liriano's ups and downs in Rochester as simply part of a process...instead of worrying about how those ups and downs would translate to a performance with the Twins.
Nobody doubts how insanely not ready Liriano was at the start of the season, at least for the majors, and whether you believe that his three-game, 10-inning stint was good for him or not, there's one thing that's certain: he's been able to benefit from his time in triple-A. After a rough start in Rochester, where in four starts he logged 19.1 innings, allowed 17 hits, 10 earned runs and posted a 14:15 walk-to-strikeout ratio, he's vastly improved. In fact, before getting roughed up in consecutive outings in late June, Liriano strung together six quality starts in seven appearances. Now, coming off what could have been his best start for the Red Wings this season, it's easy to hope that he's back on track.
Liriano's Last 10 Starts
While the strikeouts aren't always what we remember them to be, it certainly appears that his control is coming back strong. There aren't pitch totals, and I'm unfamiliar with how often Liriano was working into deep counts, but he's certainly stingy with the walks. That's a good sign. Additionally, he hasn't been knocked out before the fifth inning, and he's completed six innings eight out of ten times.
There are positive signs. His 3.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.67 BB/9 and 7.93 K/9 over that 10-game stretch all hint at a very effective pitcher. He's had decent stamina, no serious problems with his arm, and he's apparently working very hard at keeping himself focused in order to earn his promotion back to the Twins as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for him, and for some of us who are waiting for him, his return still isn't imminent. None of the four young starters are performing so as to encourage a premature recall, and we all know how the Twins rely on veterans to provide stability and reliability if not leadership. That role has been backed up again recently, as Hernandez has thrown 21 innings in his last three starts and allowed just six runs. When you have strong support like Minnesota's had from their starters, it's easier to be patient.
Finally, with the Twins in contention it's unlikely that Livan gets traded. It's been a fairly strong consensus that if Francisco were to return, it would be Hernandez's slot he's be taking over. As much as we might like to see it happen, we know the history of this franchise and how unlikely that makes any deal involving a pitcher considering the team's success.
With five starting spots filled admirably, and with none of the roles in jeopardy in the immediate future barring an injury, this all means that Francisco Liriano is likely staying put. At least for now.