BRADENTON, Fla. – While further down in the Sunshine State, Juan Nicasio was again constantly missing opponents’ bats in Fort Myers, Francisco Liriano did not have the same success in Bradenton in a 7-3 loss to the Braves on Monday.
Liriano lasted just 3.2 innings before he reached his 80-pitch count. He was behind in the count most of the day, and struggled with command, which resulted in pretty solid contact.
The start concluded after Liriano allowed seven hits and four earned runs. He did strikeout five, and only walked one, but still worked into several deep counts, pushing the pitch total up. He said that the slider and changeup felt good, but the issue was about placing the fastball.
“I didn’t have any fastball command today,” Liriano said. “I wasn’t locating the fastball at all. It was all over the place, up and down. That is what we are here for, to get better on the things that we need to work on. I will keep working in the bullpens and hopefully the next start will be better.”
The third inning was the worst inning for the lefty, as he allowed four hits in a row five out of six hitters to get knocks. In the frame, three runners crossed the plate and the Braves had back-to-back doubles to start it with one out.
Liriano will make one more start to prepare for opening day in the Spring. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle confirmed that it would be on March 26th in a Grapefruit League split squad game.
“I saw just inconsistency with his stuff, whether it was the fastball, the slider, or the changeup,” Hurdle said. “It was a battle for him out there today. He threw 80-plus and not get through the fourth. He threw the pitches that he needed to throw. Frankie is not a guy that you are going to lose any sleep over. We’ll give him the ball again and see how he does.”
The highlight for Liriano was the Pirates first run, as he drilled a pitch over the right field fence for a home run. He said that he “got a good swing on it and got lucky.”
Despite the tough outing, Liriano is pleased with where he is at this point and is just looking to fine tune and come out with better command next start.
“Mentally, [I am where I want to be],” Liriano said. “Physically, I feel fine too. It was a rough day for me today with the fastball, but like I said, I have to keep working on it and try to get better for next start.”
Daniel Bard relieved Liriano and did not fare any better, as he was not able to record a single out. He allowed three hits, three earned runs, and walked two. While Bard had the life and the velocity, he was not near the plate most of the outing. When he was, the contact was solid. Most of his pitches that missed were in the right-hand batter’s box, which was a trend similar to his last outing in Minor League camp on Friday, in which his command was equally bad and the inning had to be stopped before he got any outs.
“This is the first time that we have seen some inconsistencies from [Bard in a Major League game], like anybody else in Spring Training,” Hurdle said. “Whether it was release point today, we will look at some tape and try to get a feel for it. In velocity, this guy has taken major steps forward. Today is one of those days that I think that you don’t overcook it for him. You just look at some tape, reassure him, and tell him to keep pitching because he has made some nice adjustments and some nice improvements at this point in time.”
Trying to win the final spot in the bullpen, Eric O’Flaherty allowed a single but struck out three in his first inning of work. In his second, he induced two ground outs to start it before allowing a single and striking out his final hitter of the day.
“All of [the relievers] pitch back to back days and try to get two innings at some point in time,” Hurdle said. “Whether it is a combination of back to back days in the Grapefruit League or one day down in Minor League camp. Sometimes the two innings happen up here and sometimes they happen down there. We give them all of the looks that we ask them to do during the season. A couple of the relievers we will already be looking to get a third inning from. Caminero could be a guy that we are looking to get a third inning from this Spring.”
Jordy Mercer picked up a pair of hits and has quietly had a pretty solid Spring. The shortstop is now 10-for-33 with a home run.
Gregory Polanco added a double for his first extra base hit of the Spring and Francisco Cervelli reached base twice with a single to left center and a hit by pitch.