Liriano, Marte help push Pirates to late victory over Brewers
MILWAUKEE — Starling Marte looked plenty healthy in the ninth inning Wednesday.
Earlier in the afternoon, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not rule out the disabled list for the Pirates' left fielder, who had not played since injuring his back Saturday. But Marte pinch hit in the eighth inning, and in the ninth, he lined a two-run double to deep center field off Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez to give the Pirates a 4-1 lead, which stood as the final score.
“After he had hit and done all his work, took balls in the outfield (prior to the game), he got to the point where he said he felt he was good to go,” Hurdle said of Marte.
Marte's double followed the go-ahead hit by catcher Chris Stewart. With the scored tied in the ninth inning and Pirates on first and second, Hurdle pinch ran Clint Barmes for Ike Davis on second base. Stewart lined a single to center, and Barmes beat the throw by Elian Herrera to give the Pirates a one-run lead.
Stewart advanced to second on the throw and emphatically slapped his hands together as he recorded his first RBI with the Pirates. He and Jordy Mercer later scored on Marte's double.
“He stayed away from me (Tuesday) night so it kind of gave me a read on what he was going to do in that situation,” Stewart said of Rodriguez.
The Pirates won just their second game in nine attempts against the Brewers this season.
Perhaps the most important long-term happening for the Pirates was that Francisco Liriano looked more like the Cy Young-vote receiving pitcher he was a season ago, allowing just four hits and one run in six innings, striking out seven.
Liriano said the groin injury that almost cost him his Opening Day start lingered through the first month of the season. He said he had just began to feel at full strength in his past two starts.
The injury is not just a narrative to explain a so-so start to the season. Liriano's velocity had increased in six of his past seven starts, touching 95 mph in last start against the Cardinals. Liriano's fastball sat between 91-94 mph Wednesday.
Liriano said more important than velocity was the return of his command as he walked just one batter and threw 59 of his 87 pitches for strikes. Improved command allowed his off-speed pitches to play up.
Liriano's changeup was effective, which was critical as the Brewers fielded an entirely right-handed hitting lineup against the left-hander. Liriano's changeup had excellent fading action and velocity separation.
“I expect the best is yet to come for Frank. That's just what I believe,” Hurdle said.
Liriano generated 20 swings and misses in his 87 pitches.
He had a scare in the fifth when he slipped after a pitch as Hurdle and the training staff rushed out to the center of the infield. Liriano spoke with them briefly and remained in the game.
Liriano, who remains winless, gave up just one run. In the fifth, Khris Davis led off with a double to left. He advanced to third on a Davis error and scored a sacrifice fly to left to tie the score at 1-1.
The Pirates opened the scoring in the fourth inning when Andrew McCutchen reached with a lead-off walk, his 30th free pass of the season. He is on pace to smash his career-best mark of 89 walks in 2011.
McCutchen advanced to third on a Pedro Alvarez single and scored when Jose Tabata hit into a fielder's choice.
It was the only run Pirates scored off Brewers starter Wily Peralta, who used a mid-90s sinker to cool the Pirates. Peralta matched Liriano, allowing one run and five hits in seven innings.
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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