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Liriano could hold key for Pirates in wild-card game

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Cubs Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

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Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
 

Francisco Liriano had the best single season against left-handed hitters in major league history.

Yes, the best in baseball history.

Using the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Grantland.com found Liriano's .321 opponent on-base-plus-slugging-percentage mark against left-handed hitters was the best of all-time among left-handed pitchers who have faced a minimum of 100 left-handed batters in a season.

That dominance is good news for the Pirates in Tuesday's wild-card game against the Reds. The Reds' three best hitters — Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce — are left-handed. And it is Liriano, the Pirates' starter, versus those left-handed hitters that could determine which team advances to the National League Division Series.

Choo, Votto and Bruce are impact hitters. But each is significantly less effective against left-handed pitching.

Choo batted about 100 points worse against lefties (.215) than righties (.317). Votto has an .824 OPS vs. left-handers and a .977 mark against righties. Bruce is 0 for 11 against Liriano in his career.

Why has Liriano been so dominant against left-handed pitching?

“When he gets strike one against a lefty, he's got multiple different weapons to go to,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Everything is coming out of the same arm slot: that dynamite slider, his parachute changeup and a good two-seam fastball.”

Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA) always has had a swing-and-miss slider and changeup, but he improved his fastball command in going to a two-seamer this season. It's a major reason he is having his best year since his rookie season.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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