Pirates, Liriano lose at Reds in 1st game after All-Star break
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 1⁄3 innings. It was his shortest outing since Sept. 25, 2012, when he worked 3 2⁄3 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.