Bob Smizik: Bad news keeps on coming

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History is repeating itself with Francisco Liriano. He has never had back-to-back successful years in an MLB career dating back to 2006 and it looks like that won’t change in 2014.

After a near-dominating season in 2013, when he was 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA, 10th in the National League, Liriano is 0-5 with a 4.64 ERA. He was the pitcher of record last night in the Pirates’ 9-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

He pitched three good innings, then came apart in the fourth and collapsed in the fifth. The lowlight of the fourth was walking rookie Caleb Joseph -- the owner of one MLB hit in 12 at bats -- with the bases loaded. In the fifth, an infield single and a run-scoring double were followed by booming back-to-back home runs by Chris Davis, his first of three, and Nelson Cruz. Liriano finished the inning and left for a pinch-hitter.

If there was one particular strength Liriano had in 2013, it was an ability to totally dominate left-handed hitters. Lefties had 130 at bats against him and could collect only 19 hits -- 17 singles and two doubles. Their slugging percentage against him was .146.

This season he has faced 46 lefties and allowed 13 hits -- 10 singles, a double and two home runs. The .146 slugging percentage of last year has ballooned to .435 this season.

The Pirates bold decision to basically stand pat -- add Edinson Volquez to a rotation that lost A.J. Burnett -- is coming back to kick them in the teeth.

The notion that full seasons of Liriano, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, all of whom debuted between May 11 and June 13 last year, would be enough was wishful thinking to the extreme. It totally ignored Liriano’s ERA history, which went like this beginning in 2006: 5.70, 2.16, out for the season, 3.91, 5.80, 3.62, 5.09, 5.40, 3.02.

There was nothing in Liriano's history that would indicate he’d be a solid starter this year. There was nothing in Morton's history and, for that matter, nothing in Cole’s, who was a rookie, to indicate they could replicate their 2013 seasons. And there certainly was no reason to believe Volquez, coming off poor seasons, or Rodriquez, who missed almost the final four months of 2013, could be reliable.

The wisdom of the team's decision to stay with this rotation is this: The ERA of Pirates starters last season was 3.50, fourth best in the National League. This season it is 4.60, 14th best in the National League.

• • •

• In what might have been the most crucial at bat of the game for the Pirates, Pedro Alvarez was up in the third inning with two men on and one run in and the Pirates leading, 1-0. He took two balls and fouled off seven pitches, one almost falling fair for a possible fly-ball double, before taking a called third strike. In the first inning, with two on, Alvarez hit into a fielder’s choice.

• Starling Marte, who was 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position, struck out twice in four at bats. He has 53 whiffs on the season, tied for second in the National League.

• Ike Davis hit his second home run as a Pirates. It came with the team down, 7-1, in the seventh inning.

• The Pirates are 18-26 and in fourth place in the NL Central. They are 1½ games in front of the Cubs, two games behind Cincinnati, 5½ games behind St. Louis and eight in back of first-place Milwaukee.


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