Changing sides of rivalry still surreal for Liriano

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Changing sides of rivalry still surreal for Liriano

MINNEAPOLIS -- New pitcher Francisco Liriano was still in on shock on Monday, a little less than 48 hours after the White Sox acquired him in a trade.

As he addressed the media from the visiting dugout at Target Field, Liriano, who will start here against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night, couldnt get over the surprising nature of a trade that sent him from one side of an American League Central rivalry to the other.

Liriano said he was about to fall asleep on Saturday night in preparation for a Sunday start against the Cleveland Indians when the phone rang to inform him he had been traded. Liriano stayed in Minneapolis on Sunday and merely moved his belongings down the hall at Target Field to meet his new teammates.

Everything feels weird, Liriano said. Its just surprising. I was ready to go to bed and got the phone call around 10:30 (p.m.). I was in shock, I wasnt expecting it to get traded, the night before the game and get traded to the same division was weird, too. But things happen.

Lirianos new catcher understands what his pitcher is experiencing.

A.J. Pierzynskis move to the White Sox came more than a full season after he was traded by the Twins to the San Francisco Giants. Pierzynski had an offseason to adapt to the idea but admits it still felt funny at first.

When I first walked into SoxFest after I had signed, I remember looking at my wife and saying This is weird looking at all the White Sox stuff, Pierzynski said. But once I got to know the guys and the organization it was a pretty easy transition after that.

Pierzynski said he plans to speak with Liriano after Mondays game to start a plan for Tuesday, when Liriano faces the only major league team for whom he has ever pitched just to ease him in.

Im sure well talk probably tonight after the game, what he likes to do and how he likes to pitch, Pierzynski said. Hes been an All-Star, hes thrown a no-hitter, hes been good against us so well focus on the positives and go from there. He can be a factor in this race.

Liriano said he doesnt plan to change anything he has done on the mound. After a difficult start in April, one he attributed Sunday to putting too much pressure on himself, Liriano believes he is better than his 3-10 record and 5.31 ERA indicate. Liriano has struck out a 9.81 batters per nine innings this season, his highest since 2006, which would indicate his stuff isnt an issue.

He estimates he knows seven of his new teammates well, including Orlando Hudson, Philip Humber and Jesse Crain, all of whom played with him in Minnesota. Now he needs to focus on contributions and familiarizing himself with a new club even though the transition will be strange.

I havent done my game plan yet, Liriano said. It feels so weird. I faced the White Sox so many times. So weird. Nothing I can do about it, just do my job and try to fit in.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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