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.
**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.