The issues that befell Francisco Liriano in the first five innings Tuesday embodied those that have affected the Pirates all season. The team that won 94 games last year did so with an exceptional pitching staff. This year's crew, made up of mostly the same players, has not performed to that level.
Say what you want about pitcher's wins as an instructive statistic, but Pirates starters only have five, and Gerrit Cole has four.
The rotation now has 20 losses, the latest a 9-2 rout by the bats of Chris Davis and the Baltimore Orioles at PNC Park. Davis went 4 for 5 and hit three home runs off three Pirates pitchers, driving in five runs. The Pirates fell to 18-26 after losing their fourth game out of five.
Liriano (0-4) allowed six runs, four of them in the fifth inning, on nine hits, two of those consecutive home runs by Davis and Nelson Cruz. He walked only two, but they came at the wrong time and led to two runs.
"I was just leaving too many pitches out in the middle of the plate," Liriano said. "Just missing my spot a lot and couldn't repeat two good pitches in a row."
Liriano's ERA increased to 4.86, the latest numerical sign of the rotation's struggles. Pirates starters entered the game ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.48 ERA. The fact that 14.5 percent of fly balls allowed left the ballpark, tied for the second-worst rate in the majors, contributes to that ERA. That represents a sharp departure from the 3.50 ERA and 9.4 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate from 2013.
Liriano allowed the majority of the damage, but Davis wasn't done after Liriano left. He hit a two-run home run off of Liriano in the fifth, a solo shot facing Jared Hughes in the seventh and another two-run shot in the ninth off Jeanmar Gomez. Davis hit three home runs in a game for the second time in his career, the first coming Aug. 24, 2012 against the Toronto Blue Jays, and the three home runs doubled his season total.
"We gave him very hittable pitches," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Through three innings, Liriano looked locked in. He allowed two singles and no other ball left the infield.
Eight Orioles batters forced Liriano to throw 34 pitches in the fourth. Davis hit into the shift, but reached on an infield single. Liriano then walked Cruz on four pitches. J.J. Hardy's single to center drove in Davis, tying the score at 1-1. Jonathan Schoop hit another infield single to load the bases.
Liriano walked catcher Caleb Joseph, a rookie in his 14th major league plate appearance who replaced the injured Matt Wieters on the roster, to force in a run and the Orioles led, 2-1.
"Struggled with his command in the fourth, and then in the fifth balls were up and just flat," Hurdle said.
Manny Machado hit a dribbling infield single to start the fifth, but that's where the soft contact ended. Adam Jones doubled to the wall in left field to score Machado just ahead of Jordy Mercer's relay throw. Davis then hit a hanging slider over the Clemente Wall. Cruz followed with another home run.
"It was the same kind of stuff in the fourth and the fifth," catcher Chris Stewart said. "He started rushing a little bit and his stuff was getting flat. He wasn't able to stay back and the bottom line is, we had to try to make some pitches behind in the count and they didn't miss them."
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (2-3) struck out seven without issuing a walk in six-plus innings. He allowed two runs, both earned, and earned the win.
Three consecutive singles from Josh Harrison, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen scored a run for the Pirates in the third inning.
Ike Davis homered off Gonzalez to lead off the seventh, ending Gonzalez's outing.
The Pirates hit into inning-ending double plays in the seventh and eighth innings with two men on base and produced three double plays total in the game.
They went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 20, 2014 10:45 PM