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Pirates notebook: Liriano looks to complete consecutive quality seasons

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 5:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano allowed a run on four hits and struck out three in a victory over the Rays on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister manages the team during a game against the Rays on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. Manager Clint Hurdle remained in Bradenton for the day.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third Pedro Alvarez waits to bat in the dugout during a game against the Rays on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. Alvarez batted cleanup in the game.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third Pedro Alvarez drives in a run during the first inning against the Rays on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. Alvarez batted cleanup in the game.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers against the Rays on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Francisco Liriano has one goal this spring: The Pirates' Opening Day starter is in search of consistency, a quality that has eluded him throughout his career.

Because of injuries and mechanical flaws, Liriano never has put together back-to-back quality seasons. For Liriano, it is imperative he does in 2014 because he's a free agent after the season. For the Pirates, it is important because the lefty is being counted upon to lead the staff as a top-of-the-rotation, bat-missing force.

Liriano's quest for consistency begins with the reliability of one pitch: the fastball.

“Get a better feeling with my fastball, that is what I'm working on right now,” Liriano said. “Be more consistent with fastball location.”

During a 50-pitch outing, Liriano's fastball sat between 90 and 93 mph and touched 94 mph twice. His fastball averaged 93 mph last season, but a National League scout noted Liriano typically builds his velocity slowly.

Improved fastball command last season helped Liriano to a 16-8 season and 3.02 ERA while striking out more than a batter per inning. Liriano struggled with fastball command early Saturday but settled down to allow one run over three innings in the Pirates' 10-5 win over Tampa Bay. Liriano allowed four hits, walked one and struck out three, including All-Star Evan Longoria. Liriano got a number of swings-and-misses on his changeup and slider.

That never has been a problem for Liriano, but getting ahead in counts to make batters more vulnerable has been.

“My changeup, my slider, I think they're there. I'm not worried about that all,” Liriano said.

Liriano is hoping to lessen his reliance on off-speed pitches. He threw his slider 36.4 percent of the time last season.

“(This season) I want to throw more of my fastball, more of my two-seamer, so I can go deeper into the game,” Liriano said. “Hopefully I can get more ground balls than last year.

“I'm trying to be more consistent and stay healthy, and we'll see what happens. I've been hurt a couple times, and that's been a part of my ups and downs.”

Left on left

A week after having success against a left-handed starter in Mark Buehrle, Pedro Alvarez was back in the cleanup spot against another lefty in Tampa Bay's Matt Moore. Alvarez's approach against lefties has improved this spring after hitting .180 against left-handed pitching.

Alvarez just got under a Moore fastball in the first inning, sending a towering fly ball to right field that Rays right fielder Brandon Guyer dropped for an error. It's just spring training, but Alvarez has struck out only four times in 21 plate appearances.

He said it

Wandy Rodriguez said he felt healthy after throwing two scoreless innings Friday, and the assessment was corroborated by catcher Russell Martin, who said he was pleased with the life on Rodriguez's fastball.

“He got Joe Mauer to roll over the ball, and Joe Mauer has one of the nicest swings in the game and he sees the ball pretty well,” Martin said.

Staying back

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not travel with the team Saturday. Hurdle stayed in Bradenton, Fla., to watch Pirate minor leaguers at Pirate City.

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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