MILWAUKEE -- Excellent for most of the season, Francisco Liriano has become an enigma over his past six outings.
He followed his worst start this season with a complete game. After another solid start, he lasted just four innings. He entered his start Wednesday night on the heels of eight scoreless against the St. Louis Cardinals, and the pattern of alternation continued.
In a 9-3 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, Liriano finished only three innings. He allowed seven runs and seven hits to go with two walks and two wild pitches. A nine-batter, five-run third forced him from the game.
"Just missing my spot, I think," Liriano said.
These types of outings have cropped up the past month. Liriano has not pitched more than four innings in three of his past six starts. In the other three, though, he has pitched 24 innings of one-run baseball.
He now has a 5.94 ERA in his past six starts.
"Similar situation to the two other outings he had that haven't been anywhere close to what we've seen with the 19 good ones," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The inability to consistently get separation."
'Separation' refers to Liriano's delivery. When firing on all cylinders, he keeps his weight over the pitcher's mound before firing forward, a concerted two-part motion. In starts like the one Wednesday, the two movements become jumbled in one sloppy movement.
"The changeup stays up, the breaking ball is up, the fastball command is usually wide," Hurdle said.
"We've seen it three times from him, and it's something that he was battling more frequently in the past."
The wheels came off entirely in the third, when Liriano threw 32 pitches -- two of them wild that allowed a run to score -- as the Brewers batted around and scored five runs.
"Just trying to overthrow sometimes and missing with my fastball," Liriano said.
Liriano has held left-handed batters to a .336 on-base plus slugging percentage this season, but Norichika Aoki, the only such hitter in the Brewers lineup, singled to start the third. Carlos Gomez bunted into no-man's land and reached first safely. Consecutive doubles from Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez scored three runs.
Khris Davis struck out, but Yuniesky Betancourt singled, putting runners on the corners. Jeff Bianchi grounded back to Liriano, who, instead of trying to prevent Ramirez from scoring, wheeled toward second to start a double play. He bobbled the ball and had to settle for an out at first as another run scored.
Liriano pitched around Martin Maldonado with first base open to reach Brewers starter Wily Peralta, but threw consecutive wild pitches that allowed Betancourt to score.
He finally struck out Peralta on his 73rd and final pitch of the outing.
Andrew McCutchen hit a fly ball to left-center field in the fifth, but lost the ball in the lights. Much to his surprise, the ball cleared the fence for his 19th home run.
"I've never hit a ball and done that, ever," McCutchen said.
"It was definitely a first for me. Hopefully, I don't have to make myself look that dumb again."
McCutchen thought he popped up the ball and looked skyward for it rather than immediately running to first. Peralta hit Justin Morneau, the next batter, high and tight off the right forearm. Morneau took exception.
"Anytime you give up a home run and the next guy is hit? I don't care what hitter it is, but, when you get hit with a ball, you get mad," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.
"I don't have any issue with Morneau getting a little mad there. I know we weren't trying to hit him. I know Wily wasn't trying to do it."
Both bullpens cleared, as did the Pirates bench, but nothing further came of it. Peralta later denied intent.
"I don't want to hit him," he said. "Especially in that situation."
McCutchen said he didn't think Peralta meant to hit Morneau because he felt it was obvious he lost the ball.
"It was definitely not a ball that I hit flush," he said. "I was jammed a little bit."
Jason Grilli returned to the mound in the major leagues for the first time since July 22 and pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out two.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published September 5, 2013 3:45 AM