Pirates' Liriano tough, but Padres piece together 2-1 victory
Francisco Liriano was nearly perfect for seven consecutive innings Saturday, but it was not enough for the Pirates in a 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres.
The Pirates could not overcome first-inning damage off Liriano (3-8), and they squandered a key scoring opportunity in the eighth before 38,614 fans, the 14th sellout of the season at PNC Park.
The Pirates need a victory Sunday to win a series against the Padres for the first time in PNC Park history. The Padres have won all 13 series they have played in the ballpark.
The Pirates remain a half-game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for second place in the NL Central.
“We knew they could pitch coming in,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Liriano allowed back-to-back singles to Everth Cabrera and Yangervis Solarte to begin the game and hit Tommy Medica to load the bases. Jedd Gyorko's RBI single gave the Padres a 1-0 lead. After Chris Nelson grounded into a fielder's choice, Yasmani Grandal flied out to deep right, scoring Medica. Nelson was caught trying to advance to end the inning.
After allowing the first four Padres to reach, Liriano recorded 20 consecutive outs until he walked Grandal with two outs in the seventh inning. Liriano allowed three hits and one walk in seven innings, struck out four and lowered his ERA to 3.82.
The Pirates lost, but perhaps the bigger picture is this: The Pirates fixed Liriano once. Maybe they have fixed him again.
Liriano signed a deal that guaranteed him just $1 million in 2013. He went 16-8 and finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting. After struggling with injuries in the first half of this season, Liriano continues to look more like his 2013 self after the All-Star break.
In five starts since the break, Liriano has allowed six earned runs in 32 innings (1.69 ERA), with a 32-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“His fastball command is getting back to what we saw last year,” Hurdle said. “I think it's health more than anything. As I said a while ago, after he came off the DL, it was maybe the first time all year … he's been able to take (complete health) out on the mound.”
Liriano left the ballpark before speaking with reporters, but reliever Jared Hughes was impressed with what he saw.
“Watching him pitch from the bullpen, from that angle, is just incredible because you can see the rhythm he gets into and the angle on the ball,” Hughes said.
Liriano's run of perfection wasn't enough.
The Pirates scored only once. Josh Harrison extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a leadoff single in the first and later scored on Russell Martin's single. For the second straight game there was no scoring after the first inning.
The Pirates were shut down by left-hander Eric Stults (5-13) — he scattered seven hits and walked none in 6 1⁄3 innings — and the Padres bullpen.
The Pirates threatened in the eighth. Kevin Quackenbush allowed a leadoff single to Jordy Mercer, who advanced to third when Martin banged a double off the Clemente Wall. But Quackenbush got Ike Davis to weakly line out. Starling Marte struck out, and Gregory Polanco flied out to right.