By Bill Allmann
July 24, 2015
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano winds up during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH -- The Franciscos return to health and the Pirates return home to PNC Park combined to put the club back on track, winning their fourth straight at home and ninth in the last 10 tries as the Pirates defeated the NL East leading Nationals, 7-3.
They entered the game as losers of five of the last six.
Lefthander Francisco Liriano, who missed his last scheduled start in Milwaukee with a stiff neck, pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and striking out 11. Catcher Francisco Cervelli returned to the lineup after leaving Monday’s game in Kansas City early with wrist discomfort. He recorded two hits including his career-high fifth home run of the season, to straight away center field -- 431 feet.
Liriano was especially impressive in the first four innings -- much like Eddie Feigner of softball fame who would tell his fielders to sit down -- he nearly didn’t need teammates. He struck nine batters and retired the other three on comebackers.
“That was fine with me,” said center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who also had two hits, including a two-run home run. “I’ll sit back and watch, I don’t need to be running down balls.”
Liriano’s efficiency was also appreciated by his manager, who knew Liriano was coming off 10 days of rest, not always the model for efficiency.
“It was fun to watch,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “I can’t remember seeing a game when you only needed a pitcher, catcher, and first baseman for four innings. It was good to have him back.”
The fifth inning got a little exciting as Clint Robinson led off with a walk, Ian Desmond got the Nationals’ first hit, and then a pair of wild pitches got Robinson home with a run. However, by that time the Pirates had put up a couple of runs and Liriano had evened his record at 6-6.
“I was hitting my spots,” Liriano said. “Everything was working pretty good, I was getting my slider down and away.
“My neck feels better and I feel good. I was glad to be out there, I want to do my part and be out there every five days.”
The Pirates hitters were doing their part as well -- five of the first eight Pirates hitters had hits with Starling Marte’s triple and Pedro Alvarez’ home run putting the Bucs up 2-0. Once Washington cut the deficit in half, the bats responded immediately with two runs as Kang’s double drove home Marte and then Kang scored on Alvarez’ ground out.
The Pirates then added three more runs on the long balls by McCutchen and Cervelli to put the game away. After the scoring troubles in Kansas City the last two games, the Pirates have, surprisingly, scored the second highest number of runs in July, tied with San Francisco and behind only Milwaukee.
“I got a pitch to hit and that hasn’t happened a lot,” said McCutchen. “Hitting is contagious, that’s for sure. Confidence is the name of the game.”
And getting players back healthy doesn’t hurt either.