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Twins find their ace from within


The Minnesota Twins may have whiffed on their bid to get Cliff Lee last month, but they did find an ace among their pitchers in hand: Francisco Liriano. It may have taken four years to come back from Tommy John surgery, but Liriano is flashing some of the nastiest stuff in the big leagues and, if the Twins get into the postseason, looking every bit the series-changer that Lee could be for Texas.

Nobody in baseball gets a higher percentage of swinging strikes than Liriano, who starts Friday in Cleveland. In his past four starts he is 4-0 with a 0.63 ERA while holding hitters to a .168 average. He hit 97 mph in his past start against Seattle and broke off trademark sliders as hard as 90 mph. Lefthanded batters have almost no chance against him; in 114 plate appearances they have no home runs, one walk and a .189 batting average.

That's exactly the kind of pure stuff the Twins need should they get to October. Minnesota's starters are 1-8 with a 4.40 ERA in 14 playoff games since 2003. Liriano never has started a postseason game.

A while back I noticed that managers are reversing a longstanding trend and letting pitchers exceed 120 pitches more often -- and then Cubs manager Lou Piniella lets Thomas Diamond throw 122 pitches in his big league debut. How rare was that? It was the most pitches in a debut in nine years -- since Jason Jennings threw 124 in 2001 for the Rockies and manager Buddy Bell.

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Diamond's game marked the 83rd time this season a pitcher threw at least 120 pitches -- already more than occurred in the 2007 and 2008 seasons and on track to blow past the 92 times it happened last year. It appears to be a welcome trend. Managers no longer are completely bound by the pitch counter.

Much was made about Alex Rodriguez becoming the youngest of the seven players to hit 600 home runs. But age isn't necessarily a measurement of playing opportunity. What if you broke down the 600 Club by the number of at-bats it took to get there? Then Rodriguez becomes the fourth-fastest to get there -- trailing Sammy Sosa, for one.

Two things jump out when you break down the seven players by the fewest at-bats needed to hit 600 home runs: Babe Ruth was an extreme outlier, even measured against today's mashers, and PEDs helped change how the game was played.

Fewest At-Bats to Hit 600

1. Babe Ruth 6,9212. Barry Bonds 8,2113. Sammy Sosa 8,6374. Alex Rodriguez 8,6885. Ken Griffey Jr. 9,0426. Willie Mays 9,5147. Hank Aaron 10,014