BRADENTON, Fla. -- Nobody knew what to expect from left-hander Francisco Liriano when he joined the Pirates last season. He had an injury to his non-throwing arm. He spent some time in the Minors.
Most people expected Liriano to be the Pirates' 2014 Opening Day starter after he went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA and helped the Bucs make the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. Clint Hurdle made it official Tuesday after first making the announcement to the team during the traditional team meeting that takes place before the first full-squad workout of the spring.
"Because of everything we've seen about him since he showed up," the manager explained at Pirate City. "At this time last year, he was rehabbing. He wasn't even in the picture. The game demands, the clubhouse -- he's another guy who models the behavior you want to instill in others. He does it every day. He's a man you can depend on. And I share with these players that the greatest ability you can have day in and day out is your dependability. And we have that in Francisco."
That Liriano, who started on Opening Day 2009 for the Twins, would get the honor for the March 31 game against the Cubs seemed obvious after A.J. Burnett left as a free agent. Liriano departed the clubhouse before the news broke, but told reporters last week that he doesn't consider himself the ace of the staff.
"We have great pitchers, and I am just trying to fit in well with everybody and do my job," he said. "I am looking forward to Opening Day and trying to get ready for the season. My goal is to stay healthy the whole year and try to win 20 at least."
Hurdle shifts focus from historic '13 to follow-up '14
BRADENTON, Fla. -- While most people think the baseball season ended four months ago, Clint Hurdle has a different calculation.
"We brought closure to the 2013 season, collectively as a group, [on Tuesday]," the Pirates manager said after the club's first full-squad workout at Pirate City. "I wanted to wait for everyone to get here to do that. We revisited some things together and then we closed the book. Together."
The message, of course, is that a franchise that made the playoffs for the first time in 21 years last season can't look back and can't be satisfied with what it accomplished. A Bill Cosby quote headlined the daily schedule tacked to the bulletin board -- "The past is a ghost, the future a dream, all we have is now" -- and set the tone for the team meeting managers traditionally hold when all the players have arrived.
"We've got to nail now," Hurdle continued. "We've got to take care of now. And the men are on board. They get the fact that we've had enough positive experience from the hard work we did. The benefits have played out. There's more there. We've got to go get more. And now is the day we start the next journey. The 2014 season starts now."
Of course he wants the players to recall the approach that got them where they were last year: the unselfishness, the focus on the moment, the refusal to be distracted from the task at hand.
But he also wanted to impress upon them that the challenge is to do it all over again, to keep moving forward.
"The light is on, but we've got to go play. We've made progress. The group that played last year changed the history of the organization in a significant way. Now this group gets to add positively to the next chapter that we're all trying to write together. And, again, it starts now," he said.
"This is the next challenge. It's an incremental process. We don't want to sustain or maintain anything. We want to get better each and every day. It's not about holding into something. We've had success for one out of the last 21 years. We want to build that forward [to the point where] we're talking about something different 10 years from now. So the next manager from here talks about moving it forward. ... There was a group here who got things back in play. The bar has been set. Now nobody wants to let the bar drop."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.