Getting outs on three pitches or less has always been a staple of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and starting pitcher Francisco Liriano found success accomplishing this Saturday night. He pitched 6.2 innings in a 5-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds at a rainy PNC Park.
Liriano (1-1) had three three ball counts, and the zero walks he allowed was perhaps just as important — he came into this start leading National League pitchers with 17 walks, one behind the Major-League-high held by Felix Hernandez.
“We’ve seen this outing from him before,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “He was quick and efficient, a lot of strikes and no walks. That was an area of focus for him in his bullpens, trying to get in there and pound the zone and be more efficient with his pitches. Conditions were not ideal, and he handled his mound work very well.”
Liriano’s performance helped the Pirates improve to 15-9 on the season, which ties the club record set in 1992 and 2013. This victory also brings the team’s winning streak to six games and consecutive series won to three.
Jaso’s adjustment sets tone
Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon came into this game with an April to forget (0-2, 16.39 ERA). The rainy weather did him no favors, making the baseball harder to grip. And he didn’t get off to a good start against the Pirates — on the first pitch, John Jaso was able to hit his first home run as a Pirate. It was the fifth lead-off homer of his career.
“That’s always cool when a guy hits a first pitch home run,” Hurdle said. “It doesn’t happen often. (Jaso’s) got that ability to set his sights early if he gets something he likes.”
This home run was no coincidence; hitting coach Jeff Branson and assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey noticed something in Jaso’s swing that was creating trouble. Prior to the home run, Jaso was 0-for his last six.
“I’ve been turning my back foot where it is pointed more towards the pitcher, almost like you are in a sprinter stance,” Jaso said. “I’m pushing my body forward, and it’s getting me off my back leg. It will affect every single swing.”
It’s rare that a baseball player uses the term “sprinter stance,” but it seems to fit.
“It is a habit I developed early on in my career when my feet were spread out and I was not doing the funky thing I am doing now,” Jaso said. “It’s been a habit that never came to my attention before. When your feet are spread out and you’re in that stance it’s fine, but when my foot is back it’s pushing me, that’s where the problem comes into play.”
The matter hasn’t been completely fixed and corrected, but Jaso’s certainly closer.
“It was good to see a result,” Jaso said. “We all like that, but this is a game of adjustments, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
The early run got the Pirates off to a strong start.
“(He) set a nice tone early to get Frankie (Liriano) a run to work with early,” Hurdle said.
Rodriguez limits mistakes at plate
After the 2015 season, Sean Rodriguez was disappointed with his approach at the plate.
“He was a guy who went home and did his homework looking for ways to improve his offensive game,” Hurdle said. “He felt he could improve his chase rate from last year with the swing and miss. He told me that he had to do better than that and he would be better than that. It came into play during spring training, and nothing breeds confidence like success early.
If anyone is sad to see April end, it may be Rodriguez, who, in the eighth inning, hit a two-run homer, his fourth of the season, off Caleb Cotham. The hit boosted Rodriguez’s average to .333, and he finished the game as a defensive replacement at first base.
Not much was made of Rodriguez rejoining the Pirates in the off-season, but fans have been treated with a more aggressive and confident version of the first baseman.
“This has been a really nice string for him this month,” Hurdle said.
The series concludes Sunday afternoon when Jeff Locke (1-2, 5.03 ERA) takes on Tim Adleman (Triple-A Louisville: 2-0, 4.24 ERA). Locke is 3-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 12 career starts against the Reds. Earlier this season, he received a no-decision against the Reds, allowing one run on seven hits in six innings of work. Raisel Iglesias was scheduled to start for the Reds but felt a pinch in his right shoulder Friday.