Francisco Liriano in Control as Pirates Push Win Streak to Six Games

PITTSBURGH – Francisco Liriano stressed fastball command to both sides of the plate as his recipe for success tonight as the Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds 5-1 tonight at PNC Park.

Liriano exited the game with two outs and two on in the seventh inning after throwing 109 pitches (72 strikes), striking out six and walking none in his 6.2 innings of work. The improved command was an encouraging sign for Liriano, who had allowed 17 walks through his first four starts.

“That was an area of focus for him, to pound the zone better, more pitch efficiency,” Clint Hurdle said after the game, noting that Liriano faced only three, three-ball counts this evening.

Neftali Feliz closed out the seventh, and Tony Watson struck out two in the eighth against the heart of the Reds’ lineup.

A.J. Schugel got two outs around a walk in the top of the ninth inning, but a bloop single by Billy Hamilton prompted another appearance for closer Mark Melancon, who struck out Zack Cozart looking to end the game and record his seventh save.

First Basemen Lead Relentless Offense 

John Jaso led off the Pirates’ half of the first with a home run to right-center field on Simon’s first pitch. The 394 foot shot was Jaso’s first as a Pirate.

You need to throw a quality pitch from the start, because he has the ability to do damage early,” Hurdle noted after the game when asked if the leadoff home run was a credit to Jaso’s selectivity.

Jaso mentioned that he’s been working with Jeff Branson the last couple days to correct the position of his back foot, which was turned too much toward the pitcher, and shifting his weight more toward his front leg rather than keeping his center of gravity stable.

Despite opportunities with runners in scoring position in the third and fourth innings, the Pirates were unable to plate another run until after the Reds tied the game at one in the fifth inning.

A single by David Freese, followed by Starling Marte reaching base via a hit-by-pitch, allowed Francisco Cervelli to drive in Freese with a single to center field to put the Pirates ahead 2-1, a lead which they would not relinquish.

After a Gregory Polanco ground out advanced the runners to second and third, Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Marte and giving the Pirates a 3-1 lead.

Another pinch hit single by Matt Joyce led off the eighth inning, and Sean Rodriguez hit his fourth home run in 36 plate appearances to push the Pirates lead to 5-1. Rodriguez hit an 0-1 breaking ball from Caleb Cotham 388 feet, just beyond the left field fence.

Hurdle complimented Rodriguez’s hands in describing his early success, noting that the staff has been reminding him to trust his strength and quickness to drive the barrel of the bat to the ball. Rodriguez is now hitting an impressive .333/.444/.800 in limited time this season.

Potential Injury Concerns for Andrew McCutchen

After showing some indication that he might be dealing with some leg or knee pain during his sixth inning at-bat, concerns arose again for Andrew McCutchen after he extended to make a catch on a Tucker Barnhart line drive to the warning track in the top of the seventh.

McCutchen awkwardly went to the ground as he completed the catch, and appeared to be in some pain afterward. He remained in the game through its conclusion, lining out to right field in his final at-bat in the eighth inning.

Clint Hurdle didn’t comment on McCutchen after the game.

While working through a left knee injury last season, McCutchen posted a .194/.302/.333 line in April before getting back on track in May.

Reds Lose Sixth Straight

The struggling Reds have been rather quiet at the plate so far in this series, scoring a run in each game. Several hitters did produce some 100+ MPH balls in play against Liriano, but well-placed Pirate fielders turned them into outs.

Zack Cozart doubled in the 5th inning to provide the Reds’ only run of the night. Billy Hamilton, who singled in the preceding at-bat, scored from first just ahead of a strong throw and relay from Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer.

Alfredo Simon, fresh from a start in which he allowed eight runs in 2.2 innings, labored for most of his 4-plus innings. Simon took the loss, striking out four and walking four, throwing 91 pitches, 58 of which were strikes.

Other Notes

**The Pirates tied their franchise record of 15 wins in April, their highest win total since going 15-12 in April 2013.

**Starling Marte was hit by a pitch twice tonight, and now leads the NL with 5 this season. His 65 HBP since 2013 lead all NL hitters.

**Josh Harrison singled in the seventh inning to extend his hitting streak to nine games.

**Gregory Polanco failed to reach base for the second consecutive game, going 0-for-4 after an 0-for-3 performance last night.

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leowalter

I don’t see much of the ” Sean Hurdle ” criticism on here lately, or am I just missing it ?

Brian Bernard

True Leo, but the thing is that fans tend to over simplify things into the most recent observations and the team, I’m assuming here because I’d like to get a more informative answer, seems to look at history along with current work being put in with coaches or observations from scouts…
I’ve always tended to lean towards personal observations of a player, with past history second, and then what kind of adjustment if any would I see in their game.
With SR I’ve appreciated the positional flexibility which is just huge on a bench, and the history of power shown with rarer flashes of good at bats. Simply put he’s a very good bench guy. I never understood the rage against him. You need guys like him on a roster.

Marty W

I agree Bernard. Was getting ready to ask where are all the SRod haters now? I too was puzzled by all the rage against him.

bucsws2014

All hail Angel Hernandez. @PiratesUmp had 7 favorable calls for the Bucs vs only 2 for Reds last night. To his credit, Liriano took advantage of the higher and wider (to right) zone on half his called 3rd strikes. But a good game from him nonetheless. Didn’t think he’d get to the 7th after 42 pitches by end of 2nd inning (12 of which the fault of J-Hay’s error).

And that bat…

emjayinTN

Good work and the most important part of the summary that caught my eye was the line about the 5th inning of “After a Gregory Polanco ground out advanced the runners to 2nd and 3rd, Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly . . .”. Scoring runs without benefit of a hit is the type of situational hitting that will pay continuing dividends for this ballclub.

bucs1971

Excellent point, emjayinTN, and long overdue for this team that for years has been devoid of any sort of consistent success in situational hitting. Now, if the pitching, both starting and bullpen, can stabilize, we might be able to hang with the Cubs and if reinforcements can arrive soon from AAA and Jung Ho Kang can return and be productive, we will hopefully be able to contend with the Cubs.

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