CINCINNATI -- Francisco Liriano's shortest start this season wasn't the start to the second half the Pirates had in mind.
Liriano failed to finish the fifth inning for the first time this season as the Cincinnati Reds beat the Pirates, 5-3, Friday night at Great American Ball Park.
The Reds tagged Liriano for a season-high five earned runs on five hits in 41/3 innings in the Pirates' first game after the All-Star break. He walked four and struck out four, throwing 54 of his 98 pitches for strikes.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Liriano likely struggled to find a rhythm because he was pitching for the first time in nine days.
"They're creatures of habit sometimes. They get in routines," Hurdle said. "Not to make excuses, but that was probably the challenge that he had in repeating his delivery, holding himself over the mound before he went into his delivery. He was in a little bit of a hurry sometimes."
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Liriano, whose past problems as a pitcher stemmed from his lack of command, struggled to locate his fastball throughout. Of the 21 batters he faced, seven faced three-ball counts.
"I think I was trying to overthrow from the beginning," Liriano said. "I didn't have anything going. It was just one of those days where I couldn't get in a good rhythm or locate my pitches. I was just all over the place, up in the zone."
He finished the first half of the season with the team lead in wins (nine) and ERA (2.00), but he picked up his fourth loss as his ERA jumped to 2.44. Three of those losses have come against Cincinnati starter Mike Leake, who allowed three earned runs and six hits in 52/3 innings.
Leake surrendered three home runs, but his offense provided him with a big enough cushion, mostly in the form of a four-run fifth.
Brandon Phillips belted a bases-clearing double in the fifth, and Chris Heisey, whose homer in the first gave the Reds a quick, 1-0 lead, had his second RBI in the inning as the Reds (54-42) surged to a 5-0 lead.
The Pirates (56-38) put a big dent in that lead in the sixth, when they pounded three solo home runs to make it 5-3. It was the second time this season the Pirates have hit three home runs in one inning.
Starling Marte led off the inning with a home run to right-center field, his 10th this season. Two batters later, Andrew McCutchen crushed a hanging curveball over the left-center-field wall.
"He had been leaving it up the whole time, all day," McCutchen said. "I was finally able to get the barrel on it and get it out."
It was his 11th homer, all but one solo shots.
Two batters after that, Russell Martin parked one a couple if rows deep in the left-field stands for his ninth homer. It was Martin's first homer since June 25, the other time the Pirates hit three homers in one inning.
The home run barrage chased Leake from the game, quickly ending an outing that, an inning earlier, seemed to be a dominant one.
Heisey's fifth homer and third since coming off the disabled list June 25 was the fourth off Liriano this season.
Cincinnati cost itself a few opportunities to score with strategic and mental errors on the bases. With runners on first and second with one out, Leake squared to bunt before slashing at a pitch and hitting into an inning-ending double play in the second.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco was thrown out twice on the bases for being over-aggressive. After hitting a leadoff double in the fifth, he was thrown out at third by shortstop Clint Barmes when Leake hit a soft grounder to the left side. In the sixth, he failed to tag at first and was doubled up after Jack Hannahan flied to center.
Travis Snider threw out Joey Votto at home with two outs in the seventh to keep the score close.
After the teams combined for 19 hit batters in their previous 10 meetings this season, nobody was hit by a pitch Friday.mobilehome - pirates
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.