Jones, Liriano lead Pirates past Cardinals
The Pirates' trade for Marlon Byrd is paying off on the field — he homered in his first game Wednesday — and off it.
The Pirates gave slumping slugger Garrett Jones three days off before placing him back in the starting lineup Friday in their 5-0 win over the Cardinals. During the break, Jones had a conversation with Byrd that he credited, in part, to his 3-for-4, four-RBI performance, which included his 100th home run, in the series-opening win against St. Louis.
“When (Byrd) first got here, he came up to me and said, ‘You're a guy who can hit 30, 40 home runs.' We started talking about hitting, and a few things he mentioned made a lot of sense,” Jones said. “He was talking about last year how he didn't hit for power. He worked with a guy this offseason, and now he's hitting with power. He's not any stronger. Just a little mechanical change in his swing path.
“Sometimes hitting coaches, they tell you things in a different way. He just expressed something in a different way that we related to as players.”
The breakout night moved the Pirates (78-56) even with the Cardinals (78-56) for first place in the NL Central and helped Francisco Liriano, who threw eight shutout innings, to a career-best 15th win.
The Pirates, averaging 3.1 runs per game in the season's second half, hope the night marked something of a turning point for Jones. They are desperate for the left-handed hitter to be more like the player who hit 27 home runs last season with a .516 slugging mark and not the one who entered Friday batting .119 in August and .186 since the All-Star break.
While he pulled his two-run double in the first and his 13th home run of the season in the fourth, both off Shelby Miller fastballs, perhaps his most impressive at-bat came in the fifth when he fell behind in the count and lined a changeup into left field to score Byrd and give the Pirates a 5-0 lead. Miller rarely throws changeups, but Jones was able to stay on the pitch.
“The pitch was down, but as long as I'm staying on the ball and driving it where it's pitched, it doesn't have to be a perfect swing,” Jones said. “That's what I've been working on: extending through the ball.”
Jones has had success against Miller, now owning a 7-for-10 line against the Cardinals' young right-hander. While brilliant in April and May, the hard-throwing Miller has regressed in the second half. Perhaps it's because he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher. Miller entered Friday throwing his fastball on 73 percent of his offerings and his curveball 20 percent.
Even right-handers, whom Miller had held to a .188 batting average entering Friday, had success. Russell Martin followed Jones with a home run in the fourth. Jose Tabata doubled and singled, and Byrd hit an opposite-field double in the fifth. Miller allowed eight hits and five runs over 4 1⁄3 innings.
Liriano didn't require much help as he bounced back from a poor outing at San Francisco. He allowed just two Cardinals hits over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out six. He improved to 3-0 against the Cardinals this season, allowing just two runs in 24 innings.
Liriano is perhaps the staff's ace, and he's certainly the staff's stopper. In his past five starts following a Pirates loss, he has allowed two runs in 38 innings. Liriano said he has become better at moving on after poor starts.
“What's done is done,” Liriano said. “I kept the ball down and hit location.”