Liriano struggles early and gets little help from offense

One of those nights, Francisco Liriano said after his outing Saturday. Combine a couple of missed spots, a mile per hour or 2 less on the fastball and some good swings on well-located pitches, and starts like Liriano’s will happen from time to time.

Liriano sandwiched four strong innings -- innings where he looked like himself -- between two innings with poor command. The St. Louis Cardinals took advantage early and granted starter Joe Kelly a lead.

The Pirates' offense couldn’t recover in a 6-1 loss Saturday night at PNC Park that evened the series at a game apiece.

“I feel like I didn’t have my stuff tonight and was missing my spots with a couple pitches,” Liriano said. “Also, you have to give some credit to the hitters. I made some good pitches down and away, and they found a way to hit it.”

Liriano (0-1) allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings.

The Pirates found ways to reach base against Kelly, but they couldn’t drive runs home. They stranded 11 runners and went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.

“We had four innings in the six innings he was out there, the first, the third, the fourth and the sixth, with opportunities to cash in and we weren’t able to do it,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Kelly issued four walks Saturday, three to Pedro Alvarez, but allowed only one run in 51⁄3 innings. The Cardinals’ approach likely called for pitchers to be careful with Alvarez, who has 13 home runs in 54 career games against the Cardinals, including two Friday night against Shelby Miller.

Liriano wasn’t sharp in the first. He allowed five of the eight Cardinals who came to the plate to reach base. There were four singles and a walk, and the top three batters in the order scored. The singles came on fastballs and sliders.

After a leadoff single from Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta walked. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny moved Peralta, who is familiar with Liriano from their days in the AL Central and is 13 for 37 against him in his career, to the No. 2 spot. The Cardinals, who last season struggled against left-handed pitching, challenged Liriano with four right-handed batters in a row behind the left-handed hitting Carpenter.

Matt Holliday singled, scoring Carpenter. Allen Craig’s sacrifice fly to right was just deep enough to send Peralta home. Yadier Molina singled to put runners on the corners, and Matt Adams’ grounder just slipped through the infield to drive in another run.

“That’s part of the game,” Liriano said. “It’s one of those nights. Put it behind me, just move forward and get ready for my next start.”

Liriano generally does not struggle in the first. His career 3.60 first-inning ERA is the lowest mark for him in the first six innings.

Kelly led off the second with a double, but Liriano settled down and retired the next 13 batters he faced. He used more changeups and sliders in an attempt to navigate the Cardinals without his best stuff.

“Just trying to use whatever was working for me tonight,” Liriano said. “Trying to mix up my pitches and trying to use both sides of the plate.”

The Pirates got one run back in the third. Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen hit consecutive two-out singles. Kelly issued two walks, one to Alvarez to load the bases and one to Russell Martin to force home a run.

Liriano’s 13-batter streak ended with one out in the sixth, when Molina hit an 0-2 slider to left for his second home run of the season. A bloop single and a walk put runners on first and second with one out, but Liriano stranded them.

Peralta extended the Cardinals’ lead in the ninth with a two-run homer off Jeanmar Gomez.

Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.

First Published April 5, 2014 10:14 PM

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