SAN FRANCISCO – Francisco Liriano dealt like a top-of-the-rotation ace Tuesday night, striking out 11 in a 3-1 win against the San Francisco Giants.
The Pirates powered up early with home runs by Josh Harrison and Travis Snider, then rode Liriano for seven innings on a breezy and cool night at AT&T Park.
The club is now a season-high eight games over .500 with a 57-49 record and pulled just a game back from Milwaukee, the National League Central leader.
Liriano’s change-up hamstrung batters, as he got five swinging strikeouts with the pitch. His slider did the trick on the rest, accounting for another six strikeouts. Both played off the command of his fastball.
“I thought it was his best outing,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “Basically (he’s) improved every time since he’s been out…First pitch strikes were outstanding, 19 out of 26. I thought the fastball played so well that he was able to get them in swing mode, that’s what made the change-up so effective. He doubled up with it, tripled up with it. And the sliders to the left-handers were real sharp as well.”
The outing came on the heels of 6-1 win against the L.A. Dodgers last week, where Liriano went seven innings and gave up just one earned run, and started to show promise that he was returning to the pitcher he was in 2013 for the Pirates.
“If you just look at the numbers, this is a guy that was a huge part of the success we had last year,” said Hurdle. “That’s why I felt it was important to get him up and running again…The confidence is building and he doesn’t need a whole lot of it because he’s done some things. He was in real good form out there tonight.”
Liriano’s final line on Tuesday: seven innings, four hits, one earned run, one walk, and 11 strikeouts. He gave up one home run and threw 110 pitches.
“Everything was working pretty good tonight and I was getting better location as the game was going on,” said Liriano, who said it was the best he’s felt yet. “Yeah, my last start and tonight. Everything was getting better location wise.”
The Pirates provided some early run support.
Josh Harrison worked the count full from the leadoff position in the top of the first before driving a home run over the right field wall off Tim Hudson.
Harrison circled the bases as less than just a couple of minutes had elapsed from the start of the game.
It was the first leadoff home run of his career.
“I definitely knew it. I think that’s something you’ll remember,” said Harrison. “But when I hit it, I knew I hit it good. I just knew he wasn’t going to catch it. I just wasn’t for sure if it was going out or not.”
Ike Davis reached first with an infield chopper to leadoff the second inning with a hit. In the next at-bat Travis Snider took Hudson deep to right field, this one on a 1-2 cutter.
“I just got a cutter up and in and somehow got to it,” said Snider. “I wasn’t really sure if it was going to go out, it was my first game here and I wasn’t sure how the ball carries and stuff like that, but I was able to slide it over the top.”
Those early runs were significant. Heading into the game, the Pirates were victorious in 16 straight games when scoring in the first inning, one shy of the club record of 17 set in 1928.
Hurdle had opted to put Harrison at third base, and Snider in left field, calling them both “hot bats.”
Harrison started in place of Pedro Alvarez despite the club facing a right-hander for the first time in five games.
Michael Morse cut the deficit driving a 1-0 slider by Liriano over the center field wall in the second inning to make it 3-1, Pirates.
Liriano recovered to strike out the next three batters swinging. The first two were with his change-up and a third on a slider.
Jordy Mercer tripled with two outs in the fourth, but was stranded with Liriano up next. He popped up to shallow right field.
Liriano held the Giants to four hits, a single in the first by Gregor Blanco, Morse’s home run, and singles by Buster Posey in the fourth and fifth innings.
He issued just one walk, to Andrew Susac in the seventh with one out, but then struck out Dan Uggla with the change-up then got a groundout to end the inning.
Tony Watson pitched a scoreless eighth for the Pirates, giving up a leadoff single before getting a fly ball out and double play to end the inning.
Mark Melancon gave up a ninth inning single to Posey that snuck past Neil Walker, but got a fly ball out, strikeout, then struck out former Pirate Travis Ishikawa to close out the win.
Hudson went seven innings giving up six hits, three earned runs while walking one and striking out two.
Prior to the game Hurdle talked at length about how long Hudson has been successful in the league.
Jenn Menendez email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
First Published July 30, 2014 12:00 AM