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Liriano struggles in his return from injury as Reds knock off Pirates

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 5:30 p.m.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano pitches in the first inning against the Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Devin Mesoraco (right) is tagged out at home by Pirates catcher Russell Martin during the sixth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano looks on after giving up three runs in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014.
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The Pirates' Gregory Polanco and Neil Walker let a fly ball drop in right field during the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (24) scores at home, beating the tag from Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco in the fifth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Reds' Jay Bruce dives but is unable to catch a ball hit by the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen in the fourth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen slides safely at third base ahead of the throw to the Reds' Todd Frazier in the fourth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
Reds right fielder Jay Bruce misses a triple by the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen in the fourth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Neil Walker drives in a run with a ground out in the fourth inning against the Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen turns away from a close pitch from Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto in the first inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Reds' Devin Mesoraco is tagged out at home plate by Pirates' Russell Martin in the fifth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Andrew McCutchen triples to right field in the fourth inning against the Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano pitches in the second inning against the Reds on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
The Pirates' Russell Martin is hit by a pitch from Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto in the fourth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
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The Reds' Devin Mesoraco reacts after being tagged out at home plate by the Pirates' Russell Martin in the fifth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Todd Frazier kneels at home plate after striking out with the bases loaded in the fourth inning Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — A rough-edged outing Sunday by pitcher Francisco Liriano did not set off alarm bells with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

In his first start since coming off the disabled list, Liriano lasted only four innings in a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

The setback wrapped up a 2-5 road trip. The Pirates head into the All-Star break with a 49-46 record and are in fourth place in the NL Central, 3 12 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

Liriano was out of the game even before a passing shower halted play for nearly an hour in the fifth inning. He yielded three runs on three hits, issued six walks and struck out four.

The big blow was Kris Negron's three-run homer in the second inning. It was Negron's second career hit.

“One bad strike,” Hurdle said. “Liriano was rusty. The command will improve as he continues to pitch. There also was some swing-and-miss stuff, and he got out of a couple situations as he's done in the past.”

The Reds left the bases loaded in two of the first four innings. In the fourth, Liriano struck out Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey to get out of the jam.

“I just tried to stay calm and make pitches when I needed to,” Liriano said.

The NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013, Liriano (1-7) has been out of sync from the start this season.

During spring training, Liriano was bothered by a groin injury. In April, he left a start against the St. Louis Cardinals in the third inning due to what the team said was dizziness and flu-like symptoms. He went on the DL June 10 with a strained left oblique.

“I finally feel 100 percent healthy,” Liriano said. “It was very frustrating, and it wasn't easy for me. I hate being on the DL.”

Although he's lugging a 4.72 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP, Liriano has not lost Hurdle's confidence. Liriano will start Friday against the Colorado Rockies in the first game after the All-Star break.

“We're trying to get him in rhythm quickly so we can see what we've got,” Hurdle said. “We're going to give him every opportunity to get out of the box and get going.”

Liriano cruised through the first inning, getting three outs — two grounders and a called strikeout — on 15 pitches. He needed 33 pitches to get out of the second.

It started with Heisey's bloop double that ticked off second baseman Neil Walker's glove. With one out and Heisey on third, Liriano pitched around Devin Mesoraco — a four-pitch walk — to face the bottom of the order.

Brayan Pena flew out to right field, and the Reds opted not to test Gregory Polanco's arm. That decision paid off when Negron whacked a 1-1 changeup into the right-field seats.

“A mistake pitch,” Liriano said. “I'll learn from it.”

The Pirates got a gift run in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen dropped a hit into right field. Jay Bruce tried to make a diving catch, and the ball rolled away from him, so McCutchen got a triple. McCutchen scored on Walker's ground out.

If Bruce had conceded the hit and played the ball on the bounce, McCutchen likely would have been held to a single, and Walker's roller would have been an inning-ending double play.

Reds starter Johnny Cueto (10-6) was not sharp, but the Pirates did not fully exploit it. The right-hander gave up three runs on five hits, walked two and struck out seven.

“We made him work,” Hurdle said. “We were just one hit away from popping it. We couldn't get that last, big swing.”

The top of the fifth was interrupted by a 56-minute rain delay. When play resumed, Cueto was still on the mound.

“It was hot and muggy. The air was real thick,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “It was almost like the rain delay came on as a blessing because he was able to come in, cool off a little bit.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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