Francisco Liriano took another step toward proving that his dismantling at Coors Field two weeks ago was a fluke.
He carved up the San Diego Padres with a devastating slider, forcing swing after swing at nothing but air, in the Pirates’ 3-1 win at Petco Park Monday night.
The Pirates maintained their one-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central after the Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers Monday night.
“Everything is going the way I want it to,” Liriano said. “I’m just trying to continue doing that.”
Liriano (14-5) pitched seven scoreless innings, striking out 13 and allowing four hits. His strikeout total gave him a new season high, surpassing the 11 strikeouts he recorded against the Cincinnati Reds on June 1. He became the first Pirate to strike out more than 11 batters since Kip Wells did it in 2005.
“Having good command with my fastball makes everything easier for me,” Liriano said. “Hopefully I can continue doing that.”
The only time Liriano struck out more than 13 batters in his career came last July, when as a member of the Minnesota Twins he struck out 15 Oakland Athletics in eight innings. Fittingly for the date — Friday the 13th — he lost that game.
Liriano made his Petco Park debut five days after throwing a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals. In his start before that, he allowed 10 runs without making it out of the third inning against the Colorado Rockies.
He struck out eight Padres in the first three innings. In the second, Yonder Alonso, Chase Headley and Nick Hundley all went down swinging at Liriano’s slider, which consistently started low in the zone before arcing into the dirt.
“It looks like a strike out of his hand,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s not where it finishes.”
He bounced several pitches to induce chase swings, keeping Tony Sanchez busy shuffling between the batters’ boxes to keep the ball in front of him.
“I like getting beat up,” Sanchez said. “It means you’re putting your body on the line for the guy on the mound.”
The Padres had no luck against Liriano until the fourth, when Headley walked with two outs. Logan Forsythe’s hit bounced off Jordy Mercer’s glove for a double, putting men on second and third.
Liriano walked Hundley to load the bases for Ronny Cedeno, but Cedeno bounced into a force-out to end the inning.
They had another chance in the fifth. Chris Denorfia doubled down the left-field line and went to third base on a ground ball, but Jedd Gyorko struck out to end the inning. That strikeout was Liriano’s 11th of the game.
“He’s been lights-out pretty much all year,” Pedro Alvarez said. “He just goes out there and competes.”
Justin Wilson struck out two in a perfect eighth inning, and Mark Melancon earned his eighth save. Melancon allowed a run in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate.
The Pirates took advantage of an error to score two runs in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen singled, his second hit of the game, to lead off the inning. Alvarez singled to right, but Denorfia missed the ball. It rolled all the way to the wall, and Alvarez came all the way around to score on Denorfia’s three-base error. The hit broke an 0 for 10 streak for Alvarez, who had no view of the play and relied on third-base coach Nick Leyva to wave him home.
“You’re taught to run hard until you’re stopped,” Alvarez said. “He didn’t stop me.”
Alvarez could relax on his next trip around the bases. He homered to right field, his career-high 31st of the season, in the sixth inning to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. Alvarez’s 31 home runs lead the National League.
The Pirates entered their three-game series against the Padres in similar fashion as last season. The Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 19 innings last August before traveling to San Diego, where the Padres swept them. This year, they played 16 innings in a home loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday before flying west.
Andrew Cashner made his first start against the Pirates and allowed three runs, one earned, in seven innings. He had pitched against them as a member of the Chicago Cubs and made his major league debut against them in 2010. The only batter he faced was Ronny Cedeno, who started for the Padres at shortstop Monday.