A day after the Pittsburgh Pirates (49-46) walked nine batters, starting pitcher Francisco Liriano didn’t allow any free passes, and three relievers followed his lead to give the team the series win against the Milwaukee Brewers (40-53) after a 5-3 victory Thursday night.
Liriano’s (4.96 ERA) 13 strikeouts was his highest total since Aug. 19, 2013, against the San Diego Padres.
But what remained eye-catching was the fact that Liriano allowed zero walks. This season, Liriano leads all Major League pitchers in walks with 62. Control hasn’t been Liriano’s friend all season, but he managed to find it tonight, pitching 6.2 innings and allowing three runs — two of which were earned — on four hits.
Liriano quickly got run support from an unlikely source in right fielder Matt Joyce, who started in place of Starling Marte (scratched from lineup with flu-like symptoms). Joyce had been in an 0-for-14 hitting skid, and most of his power has come in the seventh inning or later.
But, with one swing of the bat, that all changed in the bottom of the first inning.
With both Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen on base after drawing walks, Joyce swung at a 1-0 fastball off Brewers starting pitcher Matt Garza and hit a home run, his ninth of the season, over the Clemente Wall in right field.
Joyce later added an RBI on a third inning force play.
The Brewers were able to get on the scoreboard in the third inning. Liriano was a strike away from getting out of the inning, but, instead, Jonathan Villar hit a solo home run on an 0-2 fastball.
The Pirates responded in the fourth inning when Adam Frazier’s single to left field sent Eric Fryer home to make it a 5-1 game.
The next few innings were scoreless, but Liriano was unable to escape the seventh inning.
He allowed a lead-off single to Ryan Braun, who advanced to second base on a wild pitch. After Liriano got Chris Carter to strike out looking on a full-count slider that hit the outside corner, Hernan Perez hit an RBI double. Perez appeared to have a single, but, with no Pirate covering, he took second base easily.
Perez had a phenomenal series against the Pirates, going 6-for-12 at the plate with three RBIs.
Scooter Gennett was the next Brewer batter up and, after a mound visit for Liriano, hit an RBI groundout that knocked Liriano out of the game.
It was Pirates reliever Neftali Feliz who got the final out of the seventh inning.
In the eighth inning, Pittsburgh reliever Tony Watson allowed the first two Brewers to reach base but safely navigated through the threat without allowing a run. Closer Mark Melancon ended the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his 28th save of the season.
Friday, the Pirates will welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to PNC Park for a three-game series as Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.11 ERA) will face Philadelphia’s Zach Eflin (2-3, 4.14 ERA). Cole is 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in four career starts against the Phillies.
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