Pirates' Francisco Liriano pitches against the Reds April 21 at PNC Park.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CINCINNATI — The past 32 days were an exercise in patience for Pirates starter Francisco Liriano after the first oblique strain of his career in June. Today he will return to the mound to face Johnny Cueto at Great American Ball Park.
"I just can't wait," Liriano said. "I will try to go out and not do too much, but do everything I can to keep the team in the ballgame. I can't wait until [today]."
Liriano will be officially activated off the disabled list before the game, and the Pirates will need to make a corresponding roster move on the eve of the All-Star break.
They are likely to option left-hander Jeff Locke back to Class AAA Indianapolis for the simple reason that he has options left, or they could option a reliever.
Liriano went on the DL June 11 with a left oblique strain.
His treatment centered mostly around rest, along with ice, heat and plain old time.
"He's excited. I haven't seen this big a smile on his face in quite some time," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think it's more about the fact that he actually feels really healthy."
Liriano said his rehabilitation start with Indianapolis served its purpose and gave him confidence that his oblique is healed.
He struck out eight in six shutout innings, retired the final 15 batters he faced and threw his slider and changeup along with his fastball.
"Everything went well. Was throwing more strikes and physically, nothing bothered me at all," Liriano said. "Healthy and so far, so good. Went down there, got some innings in. Feel great and ready to go."
Pedro Alvarez committed his major league-leading 19th error Friday night, this time on a routine grounder just a step or so to his right.
Hurdle said that seems to be the problem spot, noting the improved range Alvarez has shown to his left and extreme right in his time with the Pirates.
"This one particular play where it's a step and a half or two steps to his right and set your feet, drop anchor and get a throw off, that seems to be the similar fabric of the throw, the one that's been challenging," Hurdle said. "He can't put his finger on it."
He said Alvarez works on his throwing daily, by simulating that situation. The team also has tried having Alvarez avoid fielding practice -- much like a hitter who may skip batting practice during a slump at the plate.
"There's days we just told him to stop," Hurdle said. "We've just got to keep working with him, trying to recreate those events to show some improvement."
No sour grapes
The Pirates viewed Billy Hamilton's basepath move to elude a first-inning tag attempt by Gaby Sanchez Friday as nothing more than an athletic play that helped beat them.
"It's not a reviewable play. When you make your first attempt at a guy, he's got 3 feet from that position. He was not out of the baseline," Hurdle said. "The double line comes into play when there's a throw being made."
Hitting the reset button
Hurdle pinch-hit for Gregory Polanco in the ninth inning Friday with Reds closer Aroldis Chapman on the mound, partially because he wanted a right-hander for the matchup, but also for Polanco's sake.
"Polanco is not swinging the bat very well right now, at least from my eye," Hurdle said. "The league is punching back. He had it all figured out the first 10 days according to everything I read. Amazing, isn't it? The league has punched back and we're just trying to get him foundationally solid, stand up tall at the plate, not a big swing, aggressive, hit the ball hard where it's pitched.
"He's gotten a little away from that lately."
The Pirates are expected to announce today their first starter after the All-Star break. Hurdle said he hadn't told the pitcher yet, so he withheld that news until the appropriate parties were informed first.
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