Francisco Liriano

Liriano Dominates, Alvarez Scores Himself Twice in 3-1 Pirates Win

Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano stopped a longer losing skid by flummoxing the opponent like no Pirates pitcher in recent years. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

SAN DIEGO — Once again, Franky said to Pirates fans: Relax.

Coming off the team’s two rough losses, starting pitcher Francisco Liriano sliced up the San Diego Padres for a season-high 13 strikeouts over seven shutout innings to pave the Pirates’ way to a 3-1 road-trip-opening victory.

“I’ve been getting a lot of swing-and-misses right now,” Liriano said about the start that followed his complete-game win in St. Louis. “Everything’s going the way I want it to.”

And it’s going the way the Pirates want it to. Liriano, baseball’s best starting pitcher and generating whiffs, got 23 Padres’ swings to miss over his 104 pitches. He kept the Padres off-balance on his changeup and out of sorts with his slider, striking out 8 of his first 11 batters en route to the most K’s by a Pirates pitcher since Oliver Perez in 2004. Pittsburgh’s 17 total strikeouts on the evening tied a franchise-high for a nine-inning game.

“He looked really fresh today,” Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez said. “He was throwing the fastball fairly harder than what I remember from his first two outings. And his slider had some bite, a lot of bite to it. With that downward angle, it was really hard for them to lay off it.”

Sanchez blocked many of those sliders that dipped from the strike zone into the dirt under swinging San Diego bats. Much of Liriano’s improvement this year (his season ERA is back down to 2.53) draws back to an offseason mechanical change that could be making that slider even sharper.

The 29-year-old pitcher says he brings his arm up higher over his head to better control his fastball, and the effect showed in only two walks Monday Night at Petco Park. Liriano is averaging 1.5 fewer walks per nine innings compared to last season. Then fastball location sets up the remainder of his repertoire for success.

“When I came here, I told [pitching coach Ray Searage] what I wanted to do,” Liriano said. “And he agreed with me. He helped me out with my mechanics.”

Pedro’s Dash

On the offensive side, the Bucs could only get five hits, but Alvarez provided all the run support. Pittsburgh’s slugger should thank Padres right fielder Chris Denorfia for his first trip around the bases.

After Andrew McCutchen hit a leadoff single to start the 4th, Alvarez hit another sharp single past the shifted San Diego infield and into the right-field grass. Denorfia charged with his glove drawn but whiffed trying to scoop the rolling baseball.

Pedro Alvarez Pittsburgh Pirates

Pedro Alvarez took the National League lead by smashing his 31st home run. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Off to the races. The ball skittered to the right-field wall as McCutchen scored easily. Center fielder Will Venable chased it to the fence, but Alvarez flip-flop dove into home plate before the Padres could even throw it to the infield. Alvarez’s run for glory was ruled a single and a three-base error on Denorfia, but El Toro’s hustling all 235 pounds was by itself worthy of an inside-the-park home run… in your heart.

But effort does not change a scorer’s decision, so Alvarez needed the genuine deal to take the National League lead in home runs. In the 6th inning, he saw Padres starter Andrew Cashner hang a slider down the middle and laced it into the right-field seats for Homer No. 31 and the Bucs’ only RBI of the evening.

“He’s a guy that’s got good stuff,” Alvarez said of Cashner. “He demands that you’re ready to hit every pitch, because he’s not going to give you too much to hit.”

Other than that missed pitch to Alvarez, Cashner looked strong, allowing only five hits over seven innings for the quality start.

Pitchers Look Dashing

Francisco Liriano

Even from early starts (like this May outing), Liriano’s delivery went over his head more. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Once again, Liriano acted as Pittsburgh’s stopper. Coming off a 10-run loss then a 16-inning loss to drop a home series to the Diamondbacks, the left-hander kept the Padres from doing much at all offensively. San Diego’s only threat came in the 4th when Liriano gave up a double to Logan Forsythe and walked his only two batters to load the bases. No problem for “Franky,” who got former Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeño to ground out and keep a zero on the scoreboard.

“The one thing [Liriano’s] done this year is he has made better pitches,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He has kept the rhythm and the pace and the tempo. He’s got confidence with men on base. The running game’s, he’s handled.

“But making the pitches is probably the best he’s had in his career.”

The victory keeps the Pirates one game ahead of St. Louis and 2.5 games ahead of Cincinnati in the National League Central race. Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless 8th and Mark Melancon finished off the 9th (with two strikeouts each) allowing just one run to complete Pittsburgh’s 73rd win of the year, passing their total from the 2011 season.

This time last year, Liriano was holding an ERA around 5.00 pitching for the Chicago White Sox. Now he is the man the Pirates have continuously gone back to for top-notch starts that are stopping losing skids and propping up a tired bullpen.

Liriano himself can boil his obvious improvement down to one simple factor.

“Location. Things are all about location. I didn’t throw my fastball for strikes last year at all, or the year before,” Liriano said. “That makes the whole difference for me.”

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

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

Pirates Lose 4-2 in 16 Innings as Offense Flounders

Next Story »

A.J. Burnett and Pirates Offense Bounce Back Strong for 8-1 Victory

  • deacs

    Did you have that first line ready before the game? Also can anyone think of a better free agent signing for the Pirates giving what they shelled out for Liriano? I feel like we just had this conversation about Martin. I can list a handfull of really good trades but the free agent signings really haven’t worked out this well. At least none that I can think of.

  • vanderbilt

    Run Pedro run! 16.2 seconds to round the bases! Got to work on that slide though!

  • CalipariFan506

    They were right last week about the low RISP numbers being a fluke. In the 3-7 stretch here the Pirates are 14-78. Worse than we even thought!

Latest Analysis

  • Keller Supak Hinsz

    Even With the New Draft Rules, the Pirates Are Still Loading Up on Projectable Pitchers

    18 hours ago

    From 2008-2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent a lot of resources on projectable pitchers out of high school. So far, this approach has led to breakout performances from ...

    Read More
  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    2 days ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    3 days ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    4 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    6 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    1 week ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    1 week ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    2 weeks ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    2 weeks ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles