Orioles' Davis homers 3 times as Pirates sputter to worst start in 8 years

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 10:13 p.m.

It's only May, but it's starting to feel like it's getting late for the Pirates.

After a 9-2 loss Tuesday to the Baltimore Orioles, the Pirates are off to their worst start in eight years.

With an 18-26 record, the Pirates are eight victories behind their 2013 pace. They did not lose their 26th game last season until June 9, the 63rd game of the season.

In 2006, the Pirates won only 14 of their first 44 games. They finished 67-95.

No one is saying another 90-loss season is on the way. But after reaching the National League playoffs last year, the Pirates entered this season with lofty goals.

“There comes a point where you can't say it's early anymore,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We've got to find ways to execute at a championship level and execute across the board.”

The Pirates reached the season's quarter pole Friday and marked it with a six-run loss to the New York Yankees. Before that game, general manager Neal Huntington admitted the need for a rapid turnaround.

“We've got to do some things to climb back into that (postseason) discussion, and we probably need to start doing them pretty soon,” Huntington told the New York Times.

Losing two of three games to the Yankees left the Pirates with the fewest road wins (six) in the majors.

When June arrives, the Pirates will be in the midst of an arduous, 10-game road trip against the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The voyage will span 5,200 miles and four time zones with no days off.

So how big is this six-game homestand against the Orioles and Washington Nationals? Huge.

“It's not like we're more urgent now than we were at the start of the season,” Hurdle said. “We just need to play better. Now, how do we do that? That's where the focus needs to be.”

It would help if the Pirates stopped falling behind early.

“We need to be a little more proactive about getting things done,” Hurdle said. “One of the things we do well is, we battle. Unfortunately, we've been playing a lot more games than we'd like uphill at this point in the season.”

The Pirates have been outscored 144-96 over the first six innings. Some of that is due to defensive lapses. Some of it is the result of blown chances at the plate.

The biggest culprit, though, is poor starting pitching.

The most startling stat might be this: Through 44 games, Pirates starters have produced five wins, easily the lowest figure in the majors.

“We've had a lot of discussion about that,” Hurdle said, adding that the topic was on the agenda again in Tuesday's pregame strategy session.

Whatever he said didn't work.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano (0-4) has gone 10 starts without a victory. It's his longest dry spell to start a season since 2012, when he put up five losses and a no-decision before being moved into the Minnesota Twins' bullpen.

On Tuesday, Liriano needed 99 pitches to get through five innings and allowed six runs on nine hits.

“I left too many pitches in the middle of the plate,” he said. “I missed my spots a lot. I couldn't (make) two good pitches in a row.”

In the third, the Pirates gave Liriano a 1-0 edge by stringing together three singles off righty Miguel Gonzalez (2-3). However, they managed only five hits over the final six innings.

“We've got to keep hitting the ball hard and not just rely on those one or two times we hit it hard in (run-scoring) situations,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “If we do that, we'll eventually find some holes and score some runs.”

The lead evaporated in the fourth. With one out and runners on first and second, Liriano tried to get ahead of J.J. Hardy by throwing back-to-back changeups. Hardy fouled off the first one, then dumped the second into center field for a run-scoring single.

An infield single by Jonathan Schoop loaded the bases. Caleb Joseph, the No. 8 batter with an .083 average, walked on six pitches to force in the go-ahead run.

In the fifth, back-to-back home runs by Chris Davis and Nelson Cruz put the Orioles up 6-1.

Davis also went deep in the seventh and ninth innings — three home runs and five RBIs on a total of four pitches in those innings.

“The first ball I hit, I just tried to stay through it and get on top of it,” Davis said. “After that, I just tried to look for the ball, see it and hit it. Earlier today in (batting practice), I felt like it clicked for me, and it showed up in the game.”

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

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