For three innings, Francisco Liriano looked untouchable.
He had control of four pitches, worked ahead of batters and racked up swing and miss after swing and miss. The Cincinnati Reds could barely put the ball in play, let alone reach base.
"It looked like they had no chance, especially early on," outfielder Alex Presley said.
Even when the Reds did put runners on, they did so with soft contact. More soft contact gave them a slim lead. The way the Pirates offense has performed of late, that slim lead was all the Reds needed.
The Pirates were shut out for a second consecutive night in a 2-0 loss against the Reds Saturday night in front of 33,912 at PNC Park. The Pirates have scored one run in their past three games, a span of 29 innings, and could not score Saturday despite having 10 hits. They went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.
Pirates vs. Reds, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
RHP Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.30) vs. RHP Mat Latos (5-0, 3.01).
- The Pirates vs. Latos' pitch count. He has pitched less than six innings once this season.
- Hidden stat:
Latos' ERA climbed from 1.83 in April to 4.45 in May.
"The opportunities were out there again for us tonight," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We weren't able to come up with that big hit and move the chains, get something going."
Cincinnati starter Mike Leake (5-2) pitched six scoreless innings, walking one and striking out five.
Liriano (3-2) struck out 11 Reds batters. He ran into trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, albeit without allowing many hard-hit balls. He left after six innings, trailing, 1-0.
Liriano exploded out of the blocks Saturday night. Nine of the 10 pitches he threw in the first were strikes. He ran his fastball up to 95 mph. He struck out Zack Cozart and Joey Votto with sliders. Votto flipped his bat and helmet in frustration.
"I got to see him from center field in [Class AAA] Indianapolis when he was rehabbing, and he's got some good stuff," Presley said. "He threw really well."
Liriano picked up speed in the second, striking out Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier swinging.
Same story in the third. Devin Mesoraco lost his grip on the bat, flailing at a slider. Derrick Robinson whiffed on a changeup. Leake finally put the ball in play, flying out to center to end the streak. Liriano's seven consecutive strikeouts tied the Pirates' club record, set by Erik Bedard last season.
No Reds reached base until Zack Cozart dribbled a grounder to the left of the mound for an infield single with one out in the fourth. A groundout sent him to second. Brandon Phillips hit another slow roller on a check swing, this time to Garrett Jones. Replays appeared to show that Jones' flip to Liriano at first beat Phillips, who slid headfirst, but first-base umpire Bob Davidson called Phillips safe. Cozart never stopped running and scored just ahead of Liriano's throw home.
Liriano's control eluded him in the fifth.
He allowed a single to Frazier and walked Mesoraco. He then struck out the final three batters in the inning despite 3-2 counts against Robinson and Shin-Soo Choo.
"The getting on base and the running around those back-to-back innings, 22 pitches and 25 pitches, it was hard for him to catch his breath," Hurdle said.
Liriano was unavailable for comment after the game because he was tending to a family issue.
The Pirates had two men on in the third and again in the sixth but could not score. Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen could not move the runners around in the third, and Pedro Alvarez grounded out to end the sixth.
"Leake was tough tonight," said Presley, who went 3 for 5. "Switching speeds and pitches and working in and out. We had some opportunities and we battled and it was just one of those nights where we didn't get it done."
An RBI single by Votto off Tony Watson scored the Reds' second run in the eighth.
Phillips was hit by a pitch for the second consecutive night, this time by Watson, and he left the game because of a bruised forearm.
Back-to-back singles by Presley and Walker put men on the corners with no outs in the eighth, but Jonathan Broxton worked out of the jam. Presley was thrown out trying to score from third on a ground ball to first.
Two men reached against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, but Presley struck out swinging to end the game.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 2, 2013 2:45 AM