This is under “Pirates Game Recaps,” so allow me to recap by saying this was a great victory by the Pirates on both sides to get back on the winning side 6-2. If you are looking for more details because you didn’t watch the game and had other duties on Friday, neither did I. So we’re in the same boat.
So let’s talk about Francisco Liriano, who worked his way to the first complete game of the Pirates’ season. After Liriano’s season debut nearly two months ago, in which he got 18 whiffs and 9 strikeouts, I said this: “If the Pirates make a run for the playoffs, it will be because Francisco Liriano is at least a shade of the dominant pitcher he once was.”
Looks like I was wrong. Liriano is not a shade of the dominant pitcher, he is a dominant pitcher.
Other than giving up a two-run homer to Scott Hairston, Liriano produced a sparking line: 9 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 7 K with 13 groundouts. Hairston’s home run was just the 4th allowed by Liriano all year, which would be the lowest rate of his career over a full season. That number is bound to regress with a few more long flyballs (as will his 84% strand rate), but it seems PNC Park’s ability to deflate home runs for right-handed hitters will keep Liriano from allowing one home run per nine innings like he had in recent years.
Giving up fewer homers has to supply Liriano with the confidence to attack hitters. He is still giving up about eight hits per nine innings, but they are becoming more singles than doubles or home runs. His strikeout rate is higher than at any point since his phenomenal All-Star season of 2006. He is allowing far fewer walks and getting more ground balls. If Francisco Liriano is not a changed man on the mound, he is at least a much more effective one.
He is striking out about one in every four hitters, which is a marked improvement from his last few seasons in the American League. Liriano’s fastball-changeup-slider trio is still very much nasty, and it appears hitters are swinging at more of his pitches outside the strike zone. Whether that fact is a result of Liriano exhibiting improved stuff or National League hitters’ lack of familiarity with Liriano is unclear, the results have been huge for the Pirates.
Perhaps most importantly, Liriano is still just under 70 innings after the season’s midway point due to his injury. If he stays healthy, Liriano becomes a huge and (the Pirates hope) healthy part of the rotation in September beyond. If the Bucs need to win one game, like a late-season battle with the Cardinals or Reds, the Wild Card Coin-Flip or a playoff elimination game, Liriano would be as good a candidate to start as any.
The Pirates certainly have the chance to be in another pennant race two months after Liriano’s debut. Every surprise playoff team strikes gold with at least one of their signings. It looks like the Bucs got two in the relatively inexpensive but devastatingly-good Russell Martin and Liriano. It wasn’t a no-hitter, but Liriano more than showed off his better abilities in his second-career complete game.
He also did this, so…. holy crap.