DETROIT -- Running into Detroit's Max Scherzer on a bad day brings enough challenges. Thursday, when he had four pitches and enough gas in the tank to execute them in the eighth inning, he was borderline untouchable.
Scherzer dominated the Pirates for eight innings in a 5-2 loss at Comerica Park. After taking both games from the Tigers at PNC Park earlier this week, the Pirates lost both games in Detroit.
Scherzer (14-4) struck out a season-high 14 batters and threw a season-high 121 pitches. The reigning American League Cy Young winner's strikeout total fell one short of his career-high 15, also against the Pirates in 2012.
Scherzer has thrown at least 100 pitches in all but two starts this season, and in those outings, he threw 98 and 93.
"He's a horse out there," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The volume of pitches he can throw and maintain velocity and command is impressive."
Though Pirates starter Francisco Liriano (3-9) allowed two runs in six innings, Brandon Cumpton let the Tigers pull away with a three-run eighth.
The Pirates did not score until Gaby Sanchez's pinch-hit home run against reliever Phil Coke in the ninth. It was Sanchez's first homer since May 26.
Scherzer had it all Thursday: a fastball that hit 95 mph with movement, a tight slider and a changeup that dropped out of the strike zone, plus a curveball flipped in every now and again for good measure. He struck out the first four batters he faced before Starling Marte ripped a double, then struck out two more. He had eight strikeouts after three innings.
"He pitched like a Cy Young winner," Hurdle said.
For four innings, Liriano pitched almost as well. He navigated around an error -- his own -- and a walk in the first, then retired the side in order the next three. He had six strikeouts through four innings.
"I got ahead in the count and tried to use all my pitches," Liriano said. "Not stay in one part, use both sides of the plate and go from there."
The Tigers' first hit resulted in their first run: J.D. Martinez pounded a hanging slider to left for his 16th home run and a 1-0 lead.
Liriano allowed another run in the sixth, though in this case keeping the damage to one run qualified as impressive. Rajai Davis bounced a double and Ian Kinsler walked. Liriano tried to pick off Davis at second but threw the ball away, giving Miguel Cabrera two men in scoring position with no outs.
Cabrera bounced to third against the drawn-in Pirates infield, meaning Josh Harrison could look Davis back to third before recording the out. The Pirates intentionally walked Victor Martinez to load the bases.
Liriano's slider struck out Torii Hunter, but the intentional walk burned the Pirates when Liriano walked J.D. Martinez to force in a run.
"You look at those two guys in the middle, you try and take a shot at a double play with a guy that's hit into  of them with Hunter, with a sinker-ball pitcher," Hurdle said of intentionally walking Martinez, which the Pirates did twice Thursday. "We had a chance to at least have the inning play out differently."
The Pirates begin a three-game series against the first-place Washington Nationals tonight.
The opposing starters get only slightly easier, with Tanner Roark and Doug Fister on the docket. It will take quite the outing, though, to equal what Scherzer did Thursday.
"He's been outstanding the last couple years. Great pitcher," Liriano said. "We went out there and battled. He's just doing his thing. He's pretty hot right now. He got us."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
First Published August 14, 2014 12:00 AM