Pirates notebook: Liriano fills Burnett's shoes

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CHICAGO -- A renaissance in Francisco Liriano's career almost defies explanation.

After Liriano's complete game Friday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle struggled to articulate just how Liriano has managed to piece together his best season since his rookie year in 2006.

"Maybe it's a little bit more focus," Hurdle said. "Maybe it's [catcher] Russell Martin. Maybe it's Frankie with another year of experience and dealing with some adversity after he signed. That can all come into play. Maybe it's a different environment.

"You've always heard left-handers can bloom a little bit later; this is not an old man. He's got age on his side, as well."

More than anything, Hurdle concluded, it's probably a combination of all of the above.

As a result, the Pirates feature a pitcher who has regained command of his fastball and uses it to control opposing hitters.

He averages 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.5 walks per nine innings, his lowest walk rate since 2010.

Liriano credits some of his improved command to a new arm slot that allows him to throw the ball over his head. But he also is trying to pitch within his means in a way that has allowed him to keep his focus without trying to do too much on the mound.

"Everything's going well for me," he said. "We're trying to have fun."

And while A.J. Burnett (strained right calf) has been on the disabled list, Liriano has thrown -- and acted -- like the ace of the best pitching staff in the major leagues.

"He knows the roles that he plays here now," Hurdle said. "Basically for the last two or three weeks, he's been our No. 1. He's acted like it, not just the days that he's gotten the ball, but everywhere else that he's gone."

No All-Star Game griping

When Hurdle managed the National League All-Star team in 2008, he put a lot of thought into his selections -- a process that started almost two months before teams were announced.

"I did agonize," he said. "I did wrestle with some things. I made a lot of calls. I had a process put in place six weeks beforehand to get through all that and make it easier."

But even with all the advanced work, Hurdle said the final two weeks were still taxing. So he can empathize with NL manager Bruce Bochy, whose decisions were announced Saturday night.

While Hurdle and the Pirates could benefit from the NL winning the All-Star Game -- that is, if they advance to the World Series this year -- he will not scrutinize all of Bochy's selections and moves during the game.

"I'm going to have an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old who are going to want to play," Hurdle said of his kids. "I'll be busy."

The Root of the problem

Those watching the Root Sports television broadcast Friday saw an interview between the network's Robby Incmikoski and Hurdle's dad, Clint, end abruptly when a Wrigley Field security guard interrupted the live broadcast.

Video of the confrontation was featured on the sports website Deadspin.com before circulating the Internet.

It also was a topic in the Hurdle household, where some of Hurdle's siblings were upset their dad's moment on TV was spoiled.

"I'm kind of taking the high road and chuckling about it," said Hurdle, who invited his dad to Wrigley Field as part of the team's father-son weekend. "I've got a couple sisters that are hot. I've got a brother-in-law that's really hot. It was obviously an eventful day."

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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published July 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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