Francisco Liriano's effort to recapture his 2013 form is one of the important story lines for the Pirates in the second half. While he is certainly not has sharp as we saw him during long stretches last year, his past two starts are two steps in the right direction.
After struggling with his control in the first two innings, Liriano settled in and, with some help from his defense, coasted through five. He allowed the only Dodgers run in the sixth, but was was able to continue through the seventh. Unlike his last start against the Rockies, when he struck out eight and threw 95 pitches through only five innings, tonight he limited deep counts and netted only four strikeouts, relying on ground ball outs instead (with nine). He ended the night allowing only four hits, two walks and one run on 96 pitches. His game score calculates to 67, a gem. It is his fourth gem of the season. (Liriano was just short of a gem in his last start, posting a score of 64.)
"In the first inning there have still been some inconsistencies," Clint Hurdle said. "But the overall command is tightening up ... I see the confidence building, the rhythm and the pace is better, the slider and change are shaping up better up."
"I had better command than my last start," Liriano said. "I was getting quick outs and ahead in the count better than my last start. Everything is coming together so I just need to keep working location-wise ... Everything is getting better."
Snider has a night
For the second night in a row, Travis Snider filled in for the injured Starling Marte and provided not only stability, but an offensive boost. He went 2-for-3, scored three times and hit his first home run over the Clemente Wall. The ball came very close to leaving PNC Park.
"He's worked extremely hard preparing himself for the next opportunity that may come his way," is how Hurdle explained the nice run of success Snider's had in the role of spot-starter / pinch-hitter. "That's something we talk about all the time. Everybody wants opportunity, and a lot of times opportunity comes when you're not ready. He has prepared himself for his opportunity."
Hurdle went on to describe Snider's all-around game.
"He plays with confidence, he always has. He plays solid defensive outfield wherever you put him. And, he is a very aware baserunner."
With some of the left-handers the Pirates are expected to face in the coming days, Snider will likely find himself mostly pinch hitting in the immediate future.
"It was a good swing," Snider said of his solo home run in the second inning. "I finally hit one over the Clemente Wall. It's been two and a half years of that thing staring at me."
When asked about the difficulty of his role and his recent success in it, Snider credited his teammates.
"It's a testament to guys like J-Hay [Josh Harrison] and Gaby [Sanchez] and Tabby [Jose Tabata] when he was here. We took a lot of pride not only in pinch-hitting, but being prepared and knowing we're going to get shots throughout the season. For us, it's not worrying about what our role is but embracing what is each day."
Snider is now batting .302/.363/.488 since Gregory Polanco was called up from Triple-A.
Harrison provides big blow
What seemed like regularly-scheduled postgame gatherings of press around Josh Harrison in May and June reconvened tonight after a short break. His first-inning double drove in the final two runs of a four run ambush of Dodgers starter Dan Haren.
"We had him throw quite a few pitches in the first inning and we had runners in scoring position, and it's just one of those things that you want to score as many runs as possible," Harrison said. "But that's every day, though."
"Everybody has fun, man," he said of the contributions the team is receiving from players up and down the roster. "We pick each other up. When you have fun and you have guys to the left and right of you that are willing to battle for you, it's easier to do your job."
Alvarez available to hit
Pedro Alvarez was only available to come off the bench to pinch hit tonight, Hurdle said.