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Pirates notebook: Liriano leaning on changeups

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, May 31, 2014, 10:33 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — With the game on the line in the fifth inning Friday night, Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano faced Chone Figgins and Yasiel Puig, back to back.

Figgins is a 12-year veteran who hasn't been an everyday player in the majors since 2010. Puig is one of the game's most explosive young sluggers.

Figgins capped an 11-pitch at-bat with a walk that loaded the bases. Puig saw five pitches and ended the inning with an infield pop-up.

Catcher Russell Martin figured all along that Liriano's chances were better against Puig.

“Pitching is about getting guys to swing at your pitch and getting them to swing at balls sometimes,” Martin said. “Frankie can do that with his off-speed pitches because he sells it so well with his arm action. Most teams are aggressive; they want to swing the bat. So, it's a game of patience for the pitcher.”

Liriano went at both batters with a mix of sliders and (more frequently) changeups. Figgins slapped at offerings on the fringes of the zone, fouling off five pitches before taking ball four. Puig took two balls, including a first pitch in the dirt, then started hacking.

“Hitters who are just trying to flick the ball, like Figgins, are tougher. That's why they're annoying. Puig was trying to hit the ball out of the park. If he was just trying to hit a single, he might not have chased those pitches.”

Polanco atop the order

Gregory Polanco batted leadoff for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday, the first time he'd been in that spot this season. General manager Neal Huntington said it's the next phase in Polanco's development before his eventual call-up.

“There are some things we're trying to get him used to,” Huntington said. “Right field is a big one, and that's gone well. I don't know if he's going to hit third for us. We've got a pretty good guy there.”

Huntington not tempted

The St. Louis Cardinals brought up blue-chip prospect Oscar Taveras, who homered in his second big league at-bat Saturday. Huntington said he doesn't have second thoughts about keeping Polanco in the minors when he watches Taveras, George Springer, Puig and other young talent start to take off.

“Most guys go through some level of growing pains, and we're doing everything we can to try to limit that (with Polanco),” Huntington said. “It's easy to remember the young players who excel and forget those who struggle. Our history is 500 to 1,000 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A is when the typical ideal transition process happens. Gregory is still just north of 500 plate appearances total.”

Mercer returns

After spending two days on the bench, shortstop Jordy Mercer was back in the starting lineup Saturday. Mercer went into the game with a .190 batting average and a .488 OPS.

Huntington indicated Mercer might be able to work through his struggles at the major league level.

Rojas promoted

Outfielder Mel Rojas Jr., a third-round pick in 2010, was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. In 53 games at Double-A Altoona, Rojas hit .303 with an .825 OPS. Indy needed outfield depth because Chris Dickerson (foot) went to the disabled list Friday, and Andrew Lambo had surgery Wednesday to repair a ligament in his right thumb.

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

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