PITTSBURGH — Francisco Liriano has struggled throughout most of the 2016 season. Entering Friday’s start against the Los Angeles Angels, the veteran left-hander possessed a 4.63 ERA. His highest season-long mark in his previous three seasons in Pittsburgh was 3.38.

But for the most part, manager Clint Hurdle and the Pirates’ pitching staff have let Liriano pitch through his issues. In each of his first ten starts of the season, effective or not, Liriano was allowed to cross the 90-pitch barrier.

Friday, then, represented something of a tipping point, as Hurdle ambled out of the dugout after watching Liriano struggle through 3.1 innings in what would become a runaway 9-2 loss to the Angels.

It took Liriano 76 pitches to get as far as he did, giving up a season-high 10 hits and seven runs in the process. Things came unraveled right from the get-go, as he gave up a lead-off single to Yunel Escobar, walked Kole Calhoun, and then Mike Trout hit an RBI single before Liriano had even recorded an out.

“It seemed like after Trout got that hit … I don’t want to say it fell apart, but [Liriano] wasn’t really attacking the zone anymore,” said catcher Chris Stewart. “He was trying to make pitches better than he needed to and he was missing a lot, getting behind guys.”

Liriano insisted that he’s feeling physically fine, but admitted that he’s “going through a tough time right now.”

“It’s more of a mental grind for him right now,” Stewart said. “Things aren’t working for him right now and he’s searching for that comfort zone and hasn’t been able to find it. When things aren’t going well for him, he tries to over-do it.”

For Liriano’s manager, the issues represent a concerning trend.

“We haven’t been able to find a consistent rhythm and maintain it for six or seven innings,” Hurdle said. “We’ve seen snapshots of it — small sequences and maybe even some larger sequences — but the overall consistency hasn’t been there. It’s fabric to few outings now, consistently.”

Of course, struggles with command are nothing new to Liriano. It’s something that’s followed him throughout his Major League career. As a result, he’s no stranger to a long five-day wait after a tough outing.

“[I just] work on my bullpens in-between my starts,” he said of his process for trying to get himself back on track. “I don’t watch that much video. I just try to think positive, stay patient, and stay with the process.”

SILVER LININGS

After finishing the series in Miami on an 0-for-9 streak at the plate, center fielder Starling Marte broke out in a big way by going 3-for-4 with a 390-foot solo home run to left field to lead off the second inning.

It was an unexpected break out, not only because Marte had been recently struggling, but because Angels starter Jered Weaver throws with a cross-body delivery that can be tricky for right-handed hitters. But that wasn’t the case.

“Miami was a tough series,” Marte admitted. “I figured that today was a new day. We saw Weaver [in the first inning] and he was working those guys inside. I got a sample of how they were going to do it.”

Weaver nearly escaped that first at-bat without damage, as Marte hit his 1-1 curveball deep to left but, it hooked to the outside of the foul pole. The next pitch — an inside fastball — found a home in the bleachers.

“When I hit that foul ball, I didn’t think that he would come in with the same pitch,” Marte said. “I knew that he was coming inside, I put my hands to work and I got the next pitch.”

Marte followed up with a single off Weaver in the sixth and a double off reliever Greg Mahle in the eighth.

• Jung Ho Kang followed Marte’s home run with one of his own, as the Pirates’ only two runs came on back-to-back at bats.

• Andrew McCutchen, who came out of Thursday’s loss to the Marlins with thumb discomfort, reported no further issues. He went 1-for-4.

• Reliever Rob Scahill pitched a scoreless 2.1 innings of relief. It was Scahill’s first multi-inning appearance of the season, and he has now giving up just three hits in his last 5.1 innings since coming up from Triple-A Indianapolis on May 25.

UP NEXT

Jeff Locke (4-3, 4.33 ERA) will face Nick Tropeano (3-2, 3.25 ERA) Saturday at 4:05 p.m.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. Didn’t bother to read the article but wanted to comment first. Lets get serious, how are the Pirates expected to compete for the division with a very bad starting rotation. Cole is not a number 1 starter or a stopper. He has command and control issues and is not reliable. Liriano has great stuff but is terribly flawed. He walks 4 a game and is prone to implode. He is a number 3 starter at best. Niese, Locke are number 5 starters and the other guy who’s name I can not spell without looking it up is a number 6 starter. Now that super 2 has or is passing they can bring up JT but at best he is a number 2 starter. Then Khul will come up and he is written up as a potential number 4 starter but to me he is a potential number 2 starter, great command and control and a three or four pitch mix. Then Glasnow will come up and he will be a number 3 starter unless he can get his head on straight and make it to his true number 1 starter potential. You can not really rely on these rookie starters as they will be squeezed by the Umps to make them struggle. Look at the other teams in the NL and compare starting staffs with that of the Bucs. Cubs, Mets, Nats, Giants and Cards are all better then the Bucs. Then look a the teams with a true number 1 starter, Dodgers and Miami, they are probably better then the Bucs too. It is my wish that the Bucs would have addressed this in the off season but Volgy was not the answer as we all knew. The only hope is they make the wildcard and get extremely lucky.

  2. There was a period where the Pirates bullpen housed pitchers with some of the worst strikeout to walk ratios in the league, Hughes, Morris, Mazzaro, and got respectable innings out of them around the idea of controlling contact and turning ground balls into outs. They migrated away from this approach more recently.

    I don’t think it was the intention but with Locke ranking 98th, Liriano 88th and Niese 84th, in K%-BB% (out of 101) this concept has been exported to the rotation, with brutal results.

  3. Maybe Frankie should START watching some video? He’s already shown in his career that this funk can carry over for a whole year and even two.

    • You recommending like binging on NETFLIX? Wallender, Peaky Blinders, Broadchurch ect.. Just curious maybe NACRO. You think that will help?

  4. Where are all the Nutting apologist hiding now? Team is pathetic right now and it looks like they don’t give a s***. Pirates brass 100% punted 2016. Of course its not Nutting’s fault that Liriano has fallen off, but it is his fault that: (1) there is zero starting pitching depth (how nice would it be to have Happ right now) and (2) the young bulls are still sleepwalking through AAA.

    It’s so nice to have 2 teams in town that do everything they can to win. I don’t want to hear the BS about salary cap either. I have never pushed for Nutting to be unreasonable with his spending, but spend a little when it could push the team over-the-top. Sell the team Bobo, please!!!!!!!!.Only owner in sports that is pretty much indifferent about the teams success as long as it doesn’t impact his bottom-line.

    • Zach, where was your harsh commentary when they signed Cervelli to a large deal 2 weeks ago and they were winning 10 of 12? Youre looking at a very small window and drawing inaccurate conclusions. Where do you see they dont care? Erasing 3 run deficits in the 9th at Miami? They currently hold a WC position and help is on the way. The bullpen has gotten much better the last month and the rotation cant and wont continue to stink. Frankie is a concern, I think he gets one more start before a DL trip and Taillon will be called up. You need to relax

    • Geez Zachary, if everyone had a crystal ball it would be easy. There was no reason to think that Watson and Hughes wouldn’t be the same guys they were the last three years. Caminero was decent enough last year, and Feliz is a good addition. I didn’t expect Liriano to fall apart and Cole to struggle; did you? And while Niese and Vogelsong aren’t exciting, their names are interchangeable with Happ and Blanton from last year; I accept that management did what has worked for the last several years.

      This is why they play the games. It’s also why no one is ending the season right now and crowning the Cubs; because stuff happens, stuff that you don’t expect, and that’s what makes following the game fun. There are no last at-bat heroics without a come from behind rally.

      • The Cubs are who we thought they were, they are who we thought they were and WE LET THEM OFF THE HOOK. YOU WANT TO CROWN THEM, THEN CROWN THEIR ASSES.

    • Typical brainwashed by media types comment. It’s just so assanine to see comments like this. Clearly based off irrational thought and emotion because you feel entitled that pirates and bob nutting owe you something. We could state facts all day but it’s a waste of time for someone like yourself. But hey, keep talking out your ass though, it’s kind of amusing.

      • Asinine*; Taxpayer funds did build the ballpark, right? I am trolling to a certain extent, but damn, you coming at me hard is laughable. Your baseball knowledge and grasp of the English language is clearly superior to mine and as a result, I will defer to you on all matters.

    • Surely you are too busy listening to The Fan and reading old articles from 5 years ago ranting about this owner to post here.

      Being mad at all times would be exhausting but kudos for the effort.

      • I don’t really care that much, but I enjoy stirring the pot a little bit. The Fan? That is absolutely the worst sports outlet of all time.

  5. Throwing Taillon into a 2-3 or three spot puts a lot of pressure on him. Initially you would want him to replace your 4-5 but with this staff in such a mess he will be going against a lot of 1-2’s as competition. Huntington did not do this team any favors this year with what he did with the pitching staff. I really do not think that only Taillon can help this team. Obviously they are playing for a wild card spot which in itself is going to be an achievement. Can anyone see a major shake-up mid season with this pitching staff?

    • If frank goes to the DL why does JT have to replace a 2? Niese who has been great for a month becomes 2, locke jaun and JT fill out the remaining slots. Then frank returns and Nicasio goes to pen and you decide is TG/CK is a better option than Locke.

      June is a tough month schedule wise. If they can play 500 theyll be fine for WC positioning. The pirates are better than STL and LA. Survive June and roll from there

  6. Maybe a better idea would be for Liriano to be skipped a turn and see if he can re-set. He’s obviously not happy himself to be struggling. Speaking of which – we’re now 9 behind the Cubs. They need rotation help yesterday! Super 2 and Taillon cannot come up soon enough. They have basically been scraping by with 3 functional starters, Cole – Niese – Locke with Nicasio and Liriano being really erratic and overtaxing the bullpen. A shame because the hitting is strong. They’ll be better when Taillon is up and they’ll then have a reasonable ‘pen with Melancon-Watson-Feliz-Hughes-Nicasio. But how many more games back will they be in 10 more days?

    • What you say is true, but I slightly disagree about the hitting being strong. IMO it’s highly erratic too.
      The bullpen looks to be straightening out, but the starters (even Cole) have been below expectations. I wonder if the solution to the regressions might have headed to Miami in the offseason.

  7. It’s time to put Frankie in the BP conversation. Between him, Locke, and Nicasio…Locke is the safest. Only good faith ranks Liriano above Nicasio at this point.

    • Definitely frustrating to watch this whole thing unfold, but sending our highest paid pitcher to the BP? We may see the whole Indianapolis Rotation in Pittsburgh this year. One thing for sure is that this team has too much talent to be playing this type of baseball.

      Can anyone explain why Taillon was still pitching into the 7th inning last night at AAA with a 10-2 lead? He was lifted during the inning after throwing 99 pitches.

      • Hilltopper According to JD they wanted to get his pitch count up into the 90’s before they called him up. So I guess that is why he stayed in the game. Did you see what the Indy bullpen did after he left? Looks familiar.

        • Caminero did what he could. Taillon has missed the better part of two years – if he throws 80 or 85 pitches in an efficient 6 innings, I am happy. He’s heading to the show and a positive inning like he had in the 6th would have been a really nice way to depart. Just my $0.02!

          • The Taillon countdown is nine days. One more AAA start.
            Somewhat interesting is that Masterson is set for 2 more AAA starts. If he does well, is there a possibility of him joining the big team?

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