Bob Smizik: Starters falter, but Pirates win

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Two consecutive come-from-behind wins over the Toronto Blue Jays might be enough to ignite a frenzy of optimism among Pirates' true believers. But what can’t be ignored in these wins is the fact the starting pitching, indisputably a key to future success, remains a bit of a mess.

The 8-6 win over Toronto last night, in which the Pirates overcame an early five-run deficit, doesn’t look so pretty when the starting performance of Francisco Liriano is considered. It was the worst outing of the season for Liriano, who’d previously been OK but hardly a match for the dominating starter who keyed the Pirates' success last year.

Liriano couldn’t finish the fourth inning and allowed six hits, five runs (four earned) and three walks as he remained winless, 0-3, on the season.

The night before, a two-homer, three-run ninth inning that carved out a 6-5 win, was exciting, but it came in the aftermath of a below-average start by Gerrit Cole, and just when it looked like he was coming into his own following two strong performances. Cole gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings, his shortest outing of the season.

It’s a mixed bag, to be sure, but the Pirates will take it. They are 12-18 but almost as easily could have been 10-20.

An offense that had been mostly dormant sprung to life. The Pirates whacked Toronto starter Brandon Morrow solidly in the early going Friday but could not capitalize due mostly to three double plays. But home runs by Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte in the ninth proved decisive.

The Pirates trailed, 6-2, in the seventh last night but scored four times to tie the game and then won it in the eighth with two more runs.

The most encouraging signs in the two games came from Neil Walker, who was 5-for-8 with two RBIs, Marte, who was 5-for-10 with an RBI, and Alvarez, who was 3-for-8 with three RBIs. All three had been many only minor contributors to the Pirates' offense in recent weeks.

Edinson Volquez, who has been the Pirates' best starter this season, pitches today against Toronto's Dustin McGowan, who has a 5.87 ERA. After four very good starts, Volquez allowed six runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in his last appearance.

The starter against San Francisco Monday is undetermined. It could be Wandy Rodriguez, who has not pitched well all season, including a rehab start at Altoona last week, or Jeff Locke, who also has not pitched well for Indianapolis.

If manager Clint Hurdle is unhappy with those options -- and who could blame him -- he might bring back Brandon Cumpton or Charlie Morton on three days of rest. Both started in a doubleheader loss at Baltimore Thursday. Cumpton threw 94 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, Morton 98 in 5 1/3.

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