Liriano goes the distance for 8th win



CHICAGO -- The Pirates got the best of a pitcher who has owned them for the better part of his career. And they got the best from their pitcher who has owned just about everybody this season.

Francisco Liriano pitched the team's first complete game of the season, and the Pirates pounded Jeff Samardzija to beat the Chicago Cubs, 6-2, Friday at Wrigley Field.

"This is an exclamation point to what he's been doing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano.

It was Liriano's first complete game since he pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox May 3, 2011 on the South Side of Chicago. It was the Pirates' first complete game since A.J. Burnett went the distance July 31, 2012, at Wrigley Field.

Liriano allowed two earned runs on four hits, walking four and striking out seven.

And he was efficient enough -- throwing 111 pitches -- to finish what he started against the Cubs (36-48).

"We asked him after the seventh, he said 'I'm good,' " Hurdle said. "We asked him after the eighth, he said 'I'm good.' We let him run out there and get it done."

With his eighth win of the season, Liriano (8-3) moves into a tie with Jeff Locke (8-1) for the team lead. But all of Liriano's victories have come since May 11, when he made his season debut after missing more than a month while recovering from a broken bone in his right, non-throwing arm.

Since his return, he has been a different pitcher than the one that struggled with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox over the past several seasons. He has credited a tweaked arm slot for giving him more control, but he said Friday he also has embraced a new mentality on the mound.

"I think in the past, what got me into trouble is every time I had men on base, I'd want to do too much," Liriano said. "I'd try to overthrow and try to be nastier than I was. That didn't work for me. Now, I'm just trying to come and hit my spots."

Instead of firing his fastball whenever he gets in trouble, Liriano is turning more to his off-speed pitches, which he has been able to command well this season.

That's a sign of maturity, pitching coach Ray Searage said.

"He's not going to be able to go out there and throw 95 to 97 [mph] all the time," he said. "He's morphing into more of a pitcher now."

And the Pirates, who signed Liriano to a two-year deal in the offseason, are reaping the rewards. While he has maintained his same impressive strikeout numbers, Liriano almost has cut his walk rate in half this season.

His 2.20 ERA trails only Locke (2.12) among Pirates starting pitchers and is the third lowest in the National League.

"He just mixes really well," catcher Russell Martin said. "That's a big key with him, probably from pitching in the American League.

"Normally, you get in 2-0, 3-1 counts, guys can cheat to hit a fastball. But he has just as good command with his slider and his changeup that he does with his fastball."

The Pirates (53-32) scored five earned runs off Samardzija and sprayed nine hits against a lanky starter who had always owned them on the mound. But in his past two starts against the Pirates, Samardzija has shown he is not invincible against the black and gold.

He had never allowed more than three hits in any of his previous 15 outings against the Pirates. But he allowed eight in a start a month ago at Wrigley Field before surpassing that total Friday.

"He was having trouble locating his fastball and started going to more off-speed," said Garrett Jones, who went 2 for 4 with an RBI and a run. "We just had a good approach against him. We didn't swing at his pitch."

Starling Marte went 3 for 6 and scored twice to lead the Pirates offense, which hit three triples in a game for the first time since June 8, 2009.

Liriano even chipped in on offense, earning his third career RBI in the second inning to give the Pirates an early lead.



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Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published July 5, 2013 11:00 PM


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