Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bucs Grind It Out Behind Liriano 5-2

Francisco Liriano got into a little first inning jam. With an out, he left a two strike off speed pitch at the belt, and DJ LeMahieu spanked it into left. Troy Tulowitzki walked, and a short wild pitch - it bounced and was blocked by Tony Sanchez, but the spin off his chest protector carried the ball far enough away for the runners to advance - put Rox on second and third. The Cisco Kid had the answer, K'ing Michael Cuddyer and retiring Wil Rosario on a chop to third. Starling Marte opened with a shot to left that didn't carry, hauled in on the front of the track by the 383' marker. Jordy Mercer dropped a liner into left and Cutch walked. But Jorge De La Rosa, like Liriano, came back strong and got a pair of K, whiffing Gaby on a check swing and Tony Sanchez looking at some borderline high strike calls; he's gotta learn to spoil some pitches.

The Rox went down quietly in the second. JT led off with an infield single to third. Neil Walker tried to bunt for a hit, but pushed it too far, and 3B Nolan Arenado threw him out easily. It moved Tabata up a notch, but De La Rosa retired Josh Harrison and Liriano routinely to keep it scoreless.

After an out in the third, Francisco walked Fowler and LeMahieu, both on five pitches, with Tulo coming up. Tulowitzki chopped out to third, moving up the runners. Working carefully to Cuddyer with an open base, Liriano fell behind 3-0, caught a couple of generous calls, and escaped with a liner to center, hit right at Cutch. Marte lined a single to left and stole second; he went to third on a Mercer hopper to short. Cutch doubled him in, banging a ball high off the Clemente Wall, and then stole third. Arenado saved a run when with the infield in, he made a backhand, shorthop stop of a bullet by Gaby and easily tossed out Cutch, who was in no man's land after the grab. So in spite of both teams having a boatload of runners, it's just 1-0 after three.

The Rox got a one out soft liner to center, just over Walker's mitt, by Arenado in the fourth, but he was quickly erased on a 4-3 DP. JT did something he hasn't done since May; he homered to right center, just over the Trib sign 375' away. Walker was plunked in the foot on an 0-2 pitch, but no crooked number was in store. Harrison bounced into a 6-4-3 DP and Liriano flew out.

Frankie tossed a 1-2-3 fifth. Marte walked, drew three throws, then trotted into second as De La Rosa threw a pitchout away. Mercer lined a single to right to put Bucs on the corners (Marte had to wait to make sure it dropped) and that was it for De La Rosa as Adam Ottavino took the ball. He got Cutch swinging without throwing him a strike. But the baseball gods gave the Bucs a smile when Gaby's bouncer up the middle kicked away from Tulo, who may have been looking for the DP before he had the ball, and into center to score a run and keep Bucs on the corners. But again Pittsburgh settled for one as Tony Sanchez rolled into a tailor made 6-4-3 DP.

Tulo drew a one out walk in the sixth, but a pair of grounders closed out the frame. JT led off with a triple to left center, just clearing Fowler's leap and kissing off the bullpen fence. Walker K'ed, and Hurdle dug into his playbook; Harrison squeezed Tabata home, and the Bucs were up 4-0.

Arenado walked to open the seventh, just what Liriano didn't want. But a three pitch K and an 0-2 tapper back to the hill and 1-6-3 DP cleaned the frame up nicely. The Bucs conjured up some two-out lightning. Cutch singled, stole second, and came around on Gaby's soft liner to left. Sanchez the younger followed with a knock, and Walt Weiss called on Wilton Lopez, who K'ed JT to limit the damage.

Liriano was done, going seven shutout frames, giving up two hits and five walks with six whiffs, tossing 102 pitches. Tony Watson proved in the eighth that soft contact is no guarantee of success. Mercer bobbled a Corey Dickerson bouncer over the hill that was generously ruled a hit. A jam job to Fowler dropped into right, barely in the grass. A chopper to third moved the runners up, and Tulo dropped a bloop into center a step in front of Cutch to make it 5-1. That run of bad luck brought on Bryon Morris, and the darkside juju bit him, too, as Cuddyer's dribbler up the third base line that looked like it might have first nicked his foot in the batter's box turned into an RBI infield knock. Morris battled Rosario, and won when the catcher rolled a 3-2 fastball to short to start a 6-4-3 DP to end the inning. And give Tony Sanchez props; he blocked three balls in the dirt during the at bat. Lopez caught some sunny side karma in the Buc half, with Tulo stealing a hit from Walker and Harrison flying out to the scoreboard in right.

It's Mark the Shark's inning, and two grounders and a soft liner that Harrison climbed the ladder to glove gave him his sixth save and Francisco's twelfth win.

Some nice fielding this game; the left side of the Rox infield, Arenado and Tulowitzki, made several nice plays, and the Bucs turned three DP. The key was Pittsburgh grinding and squeezing to score single runs for five straight frames; though they couldn't break it open to make it easy, they provided all the cushion Liriano needed. And it's been a long time since the Bucs had an ace like him to take the hill every fifth day.

AJ Burnett takes on Juan Nicasio tomorrow afternoon in the rubber match.
  • Starling Marte has hit safely in seven straight games and in nine of his last 10 contests. 
  • Neil Walker was hit for the 13th time this season. His career total coming into this campaign was nine HPBs in four years, with a season high of four in 2011.
  • Tonight's attendance was 38,424, the 11th sellout of the season.
  • The Bucco bullpen leads all NL teams with 40 saves. The Pirates posted a total of 45 saves in 2012.
  • Ronny Cedeno signed a minor league deal with the Padres after the Astros had DFA'ed him.

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