Liriano will try to deliver a much-needed victory Monday night as the Pirates open a seven-game West Coast trip with the first of three against the San Diego Padres .
The Pirates (72-51) had a four-game lead over St. Louis after winning their fifth in a row Aug. 8 but that advantage is down to one game after seven losses in the last nine contests. They blew an early two-run lead in a 4-2 loss in 16 innings to Arizona on Sunday after a 15-5 drubbing a day earlier.
It was the third extra-inning game in six days for Pittsburgh, which has played 69 innings over that stretch.
"We need to keep grinding it out and keep playing hard. We've played a lot of innings, so it's taxing us a little bit," second baseman Neil Walker said.
Liriano (13-5, 2.68 ERA) led Pittsburgh to one of its rare recent wins by tossing a four-hitter Wednesday. That 5-1 victory in St. Louis followed a dreadful outing at Colorado on Aug. 9 in which he gave up a career-high 10 runs and 12 hits in 2 1-3 innings.
"That was the mulligan," manager Clint Hurdle said. "What we've seen all year, he's just given us chances to win. He's pitched deep into games. He's mixed pitches. He's really been in command when runners get on base."
Liriano allowed three runs over seven innings in his only start against the Padres on June 19, 2011, with Minnesota. This time, he'll face a team that's seeking its third straight win since a 2-8 stretch.
San Diego nearly dropped another one Sunday as it trailed the Mets by a run after the seventh inning. Chris Denorfia , though, hit a tying infield single in the eighth and Will Venable homered to lead off the ninth.
Venable went 2 for 5 to extend his major league-best hit streak to 15 games. He's batting .377 during that career-best run and is hitting .469 in his last nine games against the Pirates.
"Will's amazing with the way he has been swinging," pitcher Eric Stults said. "It's not only swinging the bat but it's his defensive play and stealing bases. He's doing everything. He's playing like a five-tool player. When he comes to bat, we're expecting him to do something and (Sunday) he did."
He went 7 for 12 with three doubles and three RBIs during a three-game home sweep of Pittsburgh last Aug. 20-22. San Diego (56-68) has won 18 of 21 over the Pirates and seven of nine at home.
Andrew Cashner (8-7, 3.87) will try to deliver another victory in his first start against Pittsburgh. Cashner has given up three earned runs in each of his last two starts, including a 4-2 defeat in Colorado on Wednesday, but has received a combined three runs of support while losing both after getting 20 during a three-game win streak.
Cashner has a 2.50 ERA in eight home starts as opposed to a 4.97 mark away from Petco Park.
Clint Barmes is hitting .344 in his last eight games against San Diego while Andrew McCutchen is batting .158 in his last 15 matchups. McCutchen is a career .143 hitter with a .393 OPS in his nine games in San Diego, easily his worst performance in any NL ballpark.
|August 11, 2013||Starling Marte||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hand|
|July 28, 2013||Travis Snider||15-Day DL||Left big toe discomfort|
|July 28, 2013||Michael McKenry||60-Day DL||Left knee surgery - out for season|
|July 23, 2013||Jason Grilli||15-Day DL||Strained right forearm|
|July 07, 2013||Neil Walker||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 07, 2013||Neil Walker||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|San Diego Padres|
|July 31, 2013||Carlos Quentin||15-Day DL||Right knee strain|
|July 23, 2013||Carlos Quentin||Day-to-Day||Sore right wrist|
|July 20, 2013||Jason Marquis||60-Day DL||Strained right elbow|
|July 12, 2013||Kyle Blanks||15-Day DL||Left Achilles tendinitis|
|July 07, 2013||Yasmani Grandal||60-Day DL||Right knee sprain|
|June 22, 2013||Clayton Richard||60-Day DL||Left shoulder surgery - out for season|
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Manager Clint Hurdle doesn't care whether people call Francisco Liriano the Pittsburgh Pirates ' ace or No. 1 or whatever.
"I'm not big on labels. I just like to pencil his name in every fifth day," Hurdle said after Liriano struck out a season-high 13 to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory against the San Diego Padres on Monday night.
"I'd never take it for granted and I hope nobody else does when you watch a man go out there and pitch like he does," Hurdle said. "I hope there's some appreciation. He continues to just be masterful."
Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 31st home run and the Pirates, who had lost seven of nine coming in, maintained a one-game lead in the NL Central over St. Louis.
The Padres struck out 17 times overall Monday night, giving them 59 in their last five games. They've lost nine of 13.
Liriano (14-5) tied his career-high with his 14th victory. He helped give some relief to the Pirates' bullpen, which was taxed when three of the previous six games went extra innings.
Coming off a four-hit victory at St. Louis in his last start, Liriano held San Diego to four hits in seven innings while walking two.
Liriano's previous season high was 11 strikeouts on June 1 against Cincinnati. His career high is 15.
Liriano struck out five of the first seven batters and eight of the first 11.
"I was very confident in my fastball," he said. "I threw it in and out for strikes. Breaking balls were easy for me to throw. I got very confident in my pitches. Instead of trying to do too much, I just hit my spot and let whatever happen."
The Padres loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth before Liriano got Ronny Cedeno to hit into a force.
The Padres had runners in scoring position only two other times against Liriano. Cedeno hit a leadoff single in the third and advanced on a balk before Liriano struck out the side. Chris Denorfia doubled to left with one out in the fifth and advanced to third on Will Venable 's groundout before Liriano struck out rookie Jedd Gyorko .
"The situation tonight that shows his growth, and one of the reasons he's having the year he's having is his ability to continue to pitch through traffic, to pitch out of the stretch, with runners in scoring position, runners on base," Hurdle said. "He was in command and never panicked when he got some people on base. He made pitches he needed to get out of it."
In his last four starts after a Bucs' loss, including Monday night, Liriano has pitched 30 innings and allowed only two earned runs.
"He has an explosive fastball," Denorfia said. "He works every part of the zone. He can duplicate his off-speed pitches. It was the first time seeing him this year. There was definitely some adjusting we needed to do. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it done."
Mark Melancon pitched the ninth for his eighth save in 10 chances. He allowed Nick Hundley 's RBI double with two outs.
Alvarez, who had been tied for the NL lead with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt , homered on an 0-1 pitch from Andrew Cashner with two outs in the sixth to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. It landed about six rows behind the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 party deck that sits atop the right-field wall.
The Pirates scored two runs in the fourth on two singles and an error by right fielder Denorfia. With Andrew McCutchen aboard on a leadoff single, Alvarez grounded a single to right field, which rolled under the glove of a charging Denorfia and went all the way to the fence, allowing both runners to score.
"I just missed it," Denorfia said. "There really is no excuse for it. It's one of those plays that cost us the game."
Cashner (8-8) lost his third straight start. He allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits in seven innings, struck out three and walked two.
NOTES: Padres CF Cameron Maybin returned to San Diego to have his injured knee re-examined by club doctors. Maybin has been on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tucson before the club shut him down. He probably is done for the season. ... Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett (5-8, 3.18) is scheduled to start against the Padres on Tuesday night. He's 1-5 with a 4.93 ERA in seven career starts against the Padres, with the one victory being a no-hitter on May 12, 2001, while with the Marlins. Burnett walked nine that night. ... In his last start on Aug. 15, Burnett allowed five runs in 4 1-3 innings and got a no-decision at St. Louis. Burnett has allowed 11 runs in his last two starts after throwing a complete-game victory Aug. 4 against the Rockies. ... The Padres will counter with Tyson Ross (3-5, 2.62) Tuesday night. ... LHP Wandy Rodriguez threw a bullpen session Monday. Rodriguez, who has been on the disabled list since June 11, retroactive to June 6, with tightness in his left forearm, said he still could "feel something" in his arm during the session. There is no timetable for his return. ... RHP Jason Grilli was scheduled to start throwing from a 120 feet Monday, manager Clint Hurdle said. Grilli has been on the DL since July 23 with a right forearm strain. ... RHP Ryan Reid was recalled Monday from Triple-A Indianapolis. This is Reid's second stint with the Pirates.