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Liriano struggles as Pirates lose 5-2

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Francisco Liriano struggled through five wild innings as the Pirates lost their series finale against the Nationals, 5-2.

Liriano began the game by allowing a double to Denard Span and a walk to Anthony Rendon. Adam LaRoche then moved both runners up with a groundout, and Liriano threw a wild pitch to bring Span home. Rendon then scored when Ian Desmond then slashed an opposite-field single. Pedro Alvarez finally made a terrific diving catch on Kevin Frandsen's line drive to end the inning with a score of 2-0.

After that, Liriano pitched a few scoreless innings, then faced Span again to begin the fifth. Span singled and stole second. Rendon then hit a fly ball to right center, and Josh Harrison (whose fielding heroics in the past week have perhaps distracted us from the fact that he's not really an outfielder) took a banana-like route and missed the ball near the wall. Rendon wound up with a triple, then came home on yet another wild pitch. Liriano walked two more batters in the inning. He stranded them both, but left after five innings, having struck out five while walking four.

The Pirates put two runners on in the bottom of the inning, but Jose Tabata grounded into a double play to end it. Then Harrison (of course) homered to lead off the sixth, making up for his fielding the previous inning. By then down 4-1, the Pirates put two runners on yet again later in the sixth, but this time it was Starling Marte's turn to ground into a double play.

In the seventh, Vin Mazzaro allowed one-out singles to Jayson Werth and LaRoche, and then Desmond hit a fly ball to right. Harrison initially appeared to make a sliding catch, and Werth tagged and came home from third. On replay, it became clear that the ball had come out of Harrison's glove, and the umpires awarded Desmond first base and LaRoche second. Regardless, the Nationals went up 5-1.

In the eighth, Harrison and Neil Walker hit one-out singles, and Ike Davis hit a single of his own to bring Harrison home. Marte then struck out with two men on to end the threat.

Overall, Mazzaro pitched three innings and allowed just one run and Bryan Morris pitched a scoreless ninth, so the bullpen gave the Bucs a reasonable chance to get back into the game. The Pirates put plenty of runners on base in the late innings, but mostly failed to capitalize on them. They then went down 1-2-3 to Rafael Soriano in the bottom of the ninth.

I'm tempted to make some sweeping statement about Liriano's performance, but I'm not sure I should. He's gotten much worse results this year than last, and he has pitched worse, striking out slightly fewer batters and walking slightly more. He also isn't throwing quite as hard as he did last year. Even last season, though, he had his fair share of four- and five-walk starts. He's never been a control specialist. And he's still striking out a batter an inning. The main problem this season is that his fly balls are going over the fence twice as often as they did last year. That rate should regress. He's not as good a pitcher as he was last season, but he should end up with much better numbers than he's had so far.