Jones, Liriano Rebound in 5-0 Victory as Pirates Tie for NL Central Lead

As he has done so many times before in stretches when the Pirates struggle, Francisco Liriano delivered a masterful start to propel Pittsburgh to a 5-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Liriano (15-6) pitched eight dominant, shutout innings and allowed just two hits while walking two as the Pirates (78-56) pulled into a tie atop the NL Central with the Cardinals (78-56) in front of a sellout crowd of 38,026, the 16th sellout of 2013.

“We played good defense tonight, I think it was the best night we played of defense so far,” Liriano said. “I used all my pitches, in and out.”

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano shut down the Cardinals’ prolific offense for eight innings of shutout, two-hit baseball. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

St. Louis put men on first base with two outs in each of the first three innings, but no baserunner advanced further as Liriano retired the next man up each time. From the fourth through eighth innings, Liriano retired 15 of 16 batters faced and coasted to win no. 15 on the season.

“After the third inning he locked down. A couple of balls were hit hard but he was in complete command,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

While Liriano breezed through the Cardinals’ lineup, the Pirates offense was jolted with the return of Garrett Jones who sat out the previous three games save for one pinch-hit appearance Tuesday night. Manager Clint Hurdle wanted Jones to get a little break, and it paid off as Jones went 3-for-4 with a solo home run and four RBI.

Jones kickstarted the offense in the first with a two-run double off St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, and put the Pirates ahead 3-0 in the fourth with home run no. 100 in his career.

“It’s always big to get on the board first,” Jones said. “Especially against an offense like the Cardinals and as tough offensively as they are, that could put a little negative taste in their mouth.”

Russell Martin followed with a 402-foot blast on the next pitch from Miller, a fastball left elevated and over the middle of the plate that Martin turned into his 12th big fly of 2013.

Miller finished the fourth, but couldn’t make it through after Jones struck again for a one-out basehit to drive Marlon Byrd home after Byrd doubled in the prior at-bat. Martin drew a walk from Miller, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pulled his starter.

Miller (12-9) took the loss in Friday’s decision, and allowed five runs on eight hits. Miller walked three and struck out three, with two of those walks issued to Liriano.

The Pirates got to Miller early, and continued throughout the game as the Cardinals’ starter was able to work just one perfect inning in the third, but allowed baserunners in every other frame he worked. Hurdle spoke pre-game about Miller pitching in the strike zone, and the Pirates’ approach to the match-up.

Hurdle’s hitters succeeded early, as Jose Tabata led off with a basehit to right and Neil Walker doubled to left as Hurdle said they “came out of the chute clean”.

“We’re always looking to go to the big part of the field. The ball’s away, you bang it that way,” Hurdle said. “We had a chance to make something happen, Jones started that thing off by getting a ball that he could turn on and pull hard.”

As the Pirates got to Miller’s fastball early, he started working with his off-speed pitches and cutter which hitters were able to wait back on and “wait for the mistake”.

“And if we got one, just cover it,” Hurdle said. “Make sure we work our hands and cover it and hit it to the big part of the field.”

Interesting enough, the centerpieces of the Pirates’ lineup remained quiet while the Bucs ran their record to 58-14 when scoring four or more runs. Andrew McCutchen finished 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, and Pedro Alvarez went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and was hit in the ribs with the first pitch Miller threw him in the first inning.

Garrett Jones

Garrett Jones hit career home run no. 100 in his return to the starting lineup tonight.(Photo Credit: David Hague)

Back to the mound, though, Liriano’s stellar outing followed one that was not-so-stellar when he allowed four runs on nine hits in four innings against San Francisco last Saturday. But as he has done multiple times this season, Liriano followed back with one of his best starts of the season.

“He’s a competitor, big time competitor and he’s gotten himself in a very good position this year,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think anybody of his experience and determination, when you get a little set-back like he has a couple of times, you come back and you want to get things right.”

Tonight, Liriano got it right. The Pirates’ ace kept the ball down, prevented a great deal of hard contact, got ahead of hitters with 18 first-pitch strikes, and retired 13 of 28 batters on three pitches on less. Much is made of the way the Cardinals hit with runners in scoring position, to the tune of a .327 average.

Liriano’s solution? Allow no one to reach scoring position, as the Cardinals pushed no one past first base against Liriano.

And as the game progressed, he worked in more of his secondary arsenal which made him virtually unhittable from the fourth inning on.

“He started getting the ball in, throwing strikes, we saw off-speed stuff,” Hurdle said. “When he’s got those three pitches, actually two of the different fastballs, it’s tough to square him up.”

Hurdle pulled Liriano after the eighth, and brought Mark Melancon in the game after he had not pitched in a game in six days. While Liriano, at 95 pitches, may have been able to throw another inning, Hurdle wanted to get his closer on the mound as he said Liriano was done.

“Frankie left all he had,” Hurdle said. “He emptied the tank on the field.”

 

 

Nate Barnes

Author: Nate Barnes

Nate covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects, and is an English Writing major at the University of Pittsburgh. Nate has covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report, and covered Pitt Men's Basketball, Duquesne Men's Basketball, and Pitt Baseball beats prior to this summer. You can find Nate on Twitter @NateBarnes_ where he'll keep you updated on each and every time Clint Barmes breaks up a no-hit bid with one-out in the third inning of ballgames.

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  • moose7195

    What a refreshing game it must have been for Garrett Jones. He probably needed it more than anyone on the whole team, and he picked a great time to put up this sort of game with this being the biggest series in PNC Park history.

  • leadoff

    Great defense, something has been missing for a couple of months IMO, the 3 and 4 hitters again do nothing in the biggest games, this is a hole that has to be fixed, it is great to hit when there is no pressure, but going down the stretch there is going to be nothing but pressure and these two guys have to hit in pressure situations.

  • leadoff

    The pitching pattern to McCutchen with runners on 2nd and 3rd or 2nd or 3rd so many times is getting annoying. Work him to two strikes then breaking stuff away, way away and he will not take those pitches and take the walk, he will go fishing and usually comes back with the bait still on the stick.
    If I know the drill, why doesn’t he? We are talking about one the best players in baseball, I have not lost track of that.
    I have noticed in those situations if he can hit early in the count he can beat that strategy, but if they get two strikes on him advantage pitcher, big time.

    • Nate Barnes

      Well to be fair, when there are two strikes on any hitter the pitcher usually has the advantage. The home run Jones hit last night did come on a 0-2 count, though, for what it’s worth.

      McCutchen’s at-bats weren’t that bad last night. He saw a lot of pitches in each one.He ended up having 18 pitches thrown to him between all of his plate appearances, which tied with Jones for the team-high last night. Plus, his OPS is still over .900 and he’s had an incredible month of August after not performing well late in the season the past two seasons.

      So, I understand your concern leadoff, but don’t worry too much. With Byrd in the lineup as well, McCutchen will start seeing better pitches as a result of increased protection in the middle of the order.

  • leadoff

    Jones home run was a mistake pitch, McCutchen in an entire at bat did not get one pitch to hit with the bases loaded, they were willing to let him walk before they were willing to let him hit and that was with the bases loaded. He has to take a walk when they give it to him, they knew he would not take the walk. His and most players stats mean very little when the ultimate pressure is put on them, there are no stats for pressure, that is something that is personal with the player.

    On another issue, I don’t like Pedro batting 4th, would rather see Byrd 4th, Pedro 5th, I think Byrd is a better all around threat.