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Pirates, Liriano lose at Reds in 1st game after All-Star break

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
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The Pirates' Francisco Liriano pitches in the second inning against the Reds on Friday in Cincinnati.
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (right) avoids a collision with left fielder Starling Marte while catching a fly ball hit by the Reds' Jack Hannahan in the sixth inning Friday in Cincinnati.
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The Reds' Zack Cozart throws to first base over Pirates baserunner Russell Martin to complete the double play and end the fourth inning Friday in Cincinnati.
Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano throws against the Reds in the first inning Friday in Cincinnati.
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The Pirates' Jose Tabata flies out in the third inning against the Reds on Friday in Cincinnati.
Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (right) fields a bunt by the Pirates' Francisco Liriano in the fifth inning Friday in Cincinnati.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle takes starting pitcher Francisco Liriano out in the fifth inning against the Reds on Friday in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Joey Votto backs away from a high and inside pitch in the seventh inning against the Pirates on Friday in Cincinnati.
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The Reds' Mike Leake pitches in the second inning against the Pirates on Friday in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Chris Heisey gets a hit off Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano to drive in a run in the fifth inning Friday in Cincinnati.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out against Reds relief pitcher Manny Parra in the seventh inning Friday, July 19, 2013, in Cincinnati.
Fans go for a foul ball hit by the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen in the seventh inning against the Reds on Friday in Cincinnati.
The Reds' Joey Votto (19) is tagged out at home by Pirates catcher Russell Martin while trying to score on a ball hit by Jay Bruce in the seventh inning Friday in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — Putting Francisco Liriano at the head of the Pirates' starting rotation coming out of the All-Star break was a tribute to the left-hander's fantastic first-half performance. The move also was heavily dictated by the circumstances.

It was nothing against right-hander A.J. Burnett, who will start Saturday, or All-Star left-hander Jeff Locke, who'll go Sunday.

Manager Clint Hurdle knew the Cincinnati Reds can be vulnerable against southpaws.

He also needed to get Liriano, who hadn't started a game in nine days, back on the mound as soon as possible.

“If you push him back any further, it gets chaotic,” Hurdle said. “That was at the top of the list.”

Liriano looked rusty at times Friday and it cost him in a 5-3 loss to the Reds.

“I was trying to overthrow, and I couldn't get anything going tonight,” Liriano said. “It was one of those days when you can't get into a good rhythm and locate your pitches.”

Liriano (9-4) threw 98 pitches, but lasted only 4 13 innings. It was his shortest outing since Sept. 25, 2012, when he worked 3 23 innings in his final start with the Chicago White Sox.

Giving up five runs on five hits boosted Liriano's ERA to 2.44. His 2.00 ERA at the All-Star break was the lowest by a Pirates starter in the first half since Bob Veale had a 1.90 ERA in 1968.

Getting ahead in the count was a problem. Liriano started with a ball against 12 of the 21 batters he faced.

Over his first 12 starts, he had a first-pitch strike rate of 56.3, the second-highest percentage of his eight-year career.

Also, the Reds worked a lot of deep counts. Liriano went to a three-ball count against five of the first eight and needed 64 pitches to get through the first three innings.

“I was all over the place, and everything was up in the zone,” Liriano said. “I was too quick to the plate. I tried to make some good pitches, but it didn't work.”

With one out in the first, Liriano faced Chris Heisey. On a 2-2 pitch, Liriano threw a good-looking slider which, from the look on his face, he thought should have been called a strike. Umpire Jim Reynolds disagreed.

Liriano came back with another slider, and Heisey hit it over the left-field wall. It was Heisey's fifth homer of the season, his third since coming off the disabled list on June 24.

The Pirates gave Liriano no run support and were stymied by right-hander Mike Leake (9-4). Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin each hit a solo homer in the sixth inning after Liriano exited.

“He'd been leaving it up all day,” McCutchen said. “I was finally able to put the barrel on it and get it out.”

Of the Pirates' past 13 home runs, 11 have come with the bases empty.

The Reds overcame a baserunning blunder in the fifth. Devin Mesoraco led off with a double but was thrown out trying to go to third base on Leake's grounder to short.

Shin-Soo Choo dribbled a single up the middle, extending his hitting streak to a career-best 13 games and moving Leake to third. Heisey hit an RBI infield single that ticked off third baseman Pedro Alvarez's glove.

Joey Votto walked on five pitches, which loaded the bases and ended Liriano's night. Brandon Phillips ripped a three-run double off Justin Wilson.

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

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