Francisco Liriano Digs Up A Gem In 1-0 Pirates Win

Francisco Liriano Pitching

Francisco Liriano was stellar in picking up his third straight win. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Slider. Slider. Slider. Changeup. Changeup. Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Slider. Changeup. Slider. Slider. Fastball! Slider.

Those were the pitches Francisco Liriano threw to get Cubs batters to swing and miss en route to nine strikeouts in the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. Liriano gave up only one hit in his seven innings of work. Those 19 whiffs demonstrated Liriano’s dominance of the Cubs (18-27) this night, all started by getting an above-average (for him) level of first-pitch strikes.

“Pitching ahead is making it a lot easier for me,” Liriano said. “Getting ahead with the fastball, getting ahead with the slider and mixing all my pitches.”

He tossed in strikes to start the at-bats for 15 of his 26 batters, more than half of those strikes on off-speed pitches. Liriano stayed in the zone well, allowing just one walk, and saw the bottom drop out on many a slider.

Garrett Jones

Garrett Jones drove in the only run of the game. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

“I got pretty good location with it. Everything was down in the zone,” Liriano said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Liriano needed every strikeout and scoreless frame he could get, as he received little help from the Pirates’ offense (28-18), who went 1-for-10 with runners on base. The game’s lone run, and hit with a runner aboard, came in the Bottom 1st off Cubs’ starter Jeff Samardzija. Andrew McCutchen roped a two-out double down the left-field line. One pitch later, Garrett Jones lined a fastball into right-center field to score McCutchen.

“I don’t want to say I’m locked in, but I feel good,” McCutchen said. “As long as I feel good and I’m squaring the ball up, that’s all I can do.”

Don’t Forget Samardzija

After that dink-and-dunk first, both starting pitchers rotated easy innings on the mound. Samardzija gave up only one more hit (another double to McCutchen) and got eight strikeouts. In one 10-hitter span, the right-hander got nine whiffs and struck out six. Samardzija generated 15 swings-and-misses over seven innings, largely with the combination of a split-finger pitch, slider and fastball that touched 98 miles per hour.

How has Samardzija kept the Pirates at bay over his career, especially in two starts this year?

“Locates. That’s it. He locates,” McCutchen said. “When a pitcher locates, they’re pretty tough to hit.”

One Hiccup For Liriano

Liriano’s heater was not as devastating as that of his opponent, but he confounded the Cubs and delighted the 12,675 fans at PNC Park with his breaking ball. The only road bump was in the 3rd inning. Cody Ransom singled to left, then Liriano walked Darwin Barney after going ahead 0-2 on the second baseman. Samardzija laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line and Liriano’s throw pulled Neil Walker (not Garrett Jones) off first base.

Andrew McCutchen Stolen Base

Andrew McCutchen stole another base Wednesday to go to 10-for-11 this year. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Bases loaded, top of the order.

But Julio Borbon hit a sharp grounder right at Jones, who threw home for the easy force. Then Starlin Castro came up, and Liriano got behind on the young shortstop 2-1. Catcher Russell Martin went to talk with his pitcher.

“We weren’t on the same page with the signs,” Liriano said. “I just crossed them up right there.”

That mound meeting ended up being a turning point. Liriano struck out Castro with two of his patented sliders and got Anthony Rizzo to fly out. Crisis averted.

While Liriano had thrown only 91 pitches through seven frames after 98 in his last start, and says he told coaches he could have pitched another inning, manager Clint Hurdle removed him for reliever Tony Watson.

“He was done,” Hurdle said, and indeed Liriano’s velocity was slowing down.

Tony Watson and Mark Melancon sealed the deal (Melancon for his first 2013 save), even though both allowed the tying run into scoring position.

Pedro Alvarez Pittsburgh Pirates

Pedro Alvarez flashed the leather multiple times. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

El Toro’s Smooth Glovework

The other hero in the Pirates’ victory was Pedro Alvarez. Though he was 0-for-3 at the plate, Alvarez made three stellar sliding plays on ground balls to his left side. Any could have dribbled through for hits, but the defensively-improving third baseman snared them all.

“The biggest thing sometimes is just learning how to play guys, positioning, just seeing the ball off the bat,” Alvarez said.

The Force In May

Liriano’s manager correctly points out that the left-hander’s off-speed stuff has always been good, but one key difference has improved his effectiveness early this year.

“When he gets ahead with his fastball… the other stuff plays up dramatically,” Hurdle said. “Those are the games that are electric for him.”

Fastball command was a point of emphasis for Liriano this spring, and it has led to a more complete product. He has won his first three starts, allowed only two total runs, and rolled out 25 strikeouts to just 6 walks. As Liriano puts it…

“I think everything’s working pretty good so far.”

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James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • Stephen Brooks

    The decision to insert the least effective bullpen arm into a 1-run game in the 8th was inspired.

  • reddfoxx39

    If this Liriano keeps up, I am gonna start checking on flights to Pittsburgh for early October. He has been filthy good.

    • James Santelli

      Haha, 116 games to go, my man. I will say Liriano’s first three starts have been nothing but encouraging.

  • dsjoberg23

    Excellent recap of the game James! (on a relatively dull game) Far better than usual stuff one would read in print media.. Thanks

    (ps it was Walker pulled off first on Liriano’s bunt not Jones..a very small point. )

    • James Santelli

      Every detail counts. Thanks!

  • rohabi

    Also, hats off to Gerritt Jones. He made some really nice digs on two of Pedro’s throws. He has been more than capable there this year.

  • leadoff

    The Cubs are tough, their record lies, I thought the Cubs could easily win 2 out of 3 from the Bucs, so I am satisfied with a series win. If Wood was pitching in this series I would not have given the Bucs much of a chance of any wins in this series. The Cubs have 4 good starters, if their GM was as smart as the Pirate GM, he would have spent more time building a bullpen.

    • smurph

      Cubs blow. Horrible bullpen and one of the lowest team BAs w/risp.

    • meatygettingsaucy

      They are definitely improving and should be on the rise next season. I don’t know which is smarter but I do know Theo Epstein knows how to assemble a team smartly. He is rebuilding without tearing away everything.

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