Liriano stands out, leads Bucs to victory over Cubs
CHICAGO — There wasn't one pitch in particular that disobeyed left-hander Francisco Liriano in Friday's game against the Chicago Cubs.
“It was everything,” he said. “I was missing with my fastball, changeup, slider. I was all over the place. Everything was down, but I was missing my spots a lot.”
But for a veteran pitcher like Liriano, crummy command doesn't necessarily lead to a rotten outing. He churned out seven scoreless innings to pace the Pirates to a 2-0 victory against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Liriano (4-2) allowed just two hits (both singles), walked five and struck out eight. It was the fifth time in six starts that he's given up one run or less.
After being swept by the Atlanta Braves in a three-game set earlier in the week, the Pirates got back on track by beating the Cubs for the fourth time in a row.
Most of the credit, as usual, goes to the pitching staff. After Liriano softened up the Cubs, relievers Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli made the slender lead hold up.
The Pirates have scored two or fewer runs in six of their 10 shutouts this season. In none of those 10 games did a starter go beyond the seventh inning.
When the offense struggles the way it has been, every inning becomes a high-leverage frame for the starters and relievers.
“It hasn't been just the eighth or the ninth,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It's been a lot of different points and times, so everybody out there has contributed.”
Melancon found a bright side to the glut of high-stress outings.
“When you're put in a situation where it's a one-run game, it's nice to have a few under your belt before you go out there,” Melancon said. “That can only help us in the long run.”
Liriano walked Anthony Rizzo to start the fourth inning. His second pitch to Alfonso Soriano was a fastball that stayed straight and up in the zone. Soriano blasted it, but the wind was blowing in off Lake Michigan, and center fielder Andrew McCutchen made the catch.
“I was so happy I got away with that pitch,” Liriano said. “A great day to have the wind blowing in.”
Liriano held the Cubs hitless until the fifth, when pitcher Travis Wood slapped a one-out single to left field. Chicago had runners at second and third with two outs, but a mound visit by pitching coach Ray Searage allowed Liriano to regroup. He fired a laser on the outside edge to Rizzo, who took it for an inning-ending strikeout.
“All his pitches are deceiving,” catcher Russell Martin said. “He has his fastball arm speed on both his off-speed pitches, which throws hitters off a little bit. And he throws every pitch with conviction.”
The Pirates finally broke through against Wood (5-4) in the sixth. Jordy Mercer hit a one-out double, then went to third on McCutchen's fly out to center. Gaby Sanchez walked. First-pitch swinging, Martin lined an RBI double into the left-field corner.
“I was just looking for something out over the plate,” Martin said. “Travis is so good at mixing speeds, throwing that cutter to both sides of the plate, changing eye levels. I told my self to be aggressive. I wasn't going to wait around because he was throwing a lot of strikes.”
In the ninth, Martin drew a leadoff walk from righty reliever Carlos Villanueva. Pedro Alvarez singled, moving Martin to third base. Travis Snider reached on a fielder's choice grounder, which scored Martin.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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