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Liriano could hold key for Pirates in wild-card game

| Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
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.

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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