PITTSBURGH (AP) – The conversation was brief and Francisco Liriano didn’t put up much of a fight.
Staked to a massive lead and three outs shy of just the second shutout of his career, Liriano wouldn’t have minded one more inning of work. Catcher Francisco Cervelli wasn’t so sure. Neither was Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. At that point, arguing would have been useless.
“He’s in place with us for three years, he’s in a good spot,” Hurdle said. “I imagine the opportunity to throw a complete game will come again.”
The way Liriano is dealing at the moment, perhaps sooner rather than later. The left-hander allowed two singles in eight dominant innings and the Pirates ran their winning streak to five with an 11-0 romp over the Chicago White Sox on Monday night.
Liriano (4-5) struck out 12 and walked one as Pittsburgh put together its second straight shutout and fourth in its last five games, dropping the team’s ERA to 2.79, the second-best mark in the majors behind St. Louis.
“Guys have different skill sets, different pitches,” Hurdle said. “More often than not we’re pounding the zone. We’re throwing strikes. We’re changing speeds. We’re moving things around, going to different locations. Their command and pace on the mound has played a big role.”
When sharp, Liriano is one of the better lefties in the game. He has struggled at times with his command, leaving opportunities to go the distance rare. He needed just 100 pitches to get 24 outs against the White Sox, buoyed by a fastball that went where he wanted it to go.
“When I can’t throw my fastball for strikes, then I have to throw too many breaking balls,” Liriano said. “I don’t go that deep into games. Being able to throw my fastball for a strike tonight was a big thing for me.”
So was some healthy room to work as the Pirates erupted for season highs in runs and hits (18). Josh Harrison and Starling Marte both collected four hits for Pittsburgh. Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Francisco Cervelli all drove in two runs apiece as the Pirates posted their most lopsided win of the year.
Chicago rookie Carlos Rodon (2-1) came in having allowed three runs combined in his previous four starts. He gave up five runs in the first and seven in 3 2-3 innings, the worst start of his brief career. The White Sox have dropped four straight.
“We knew what (Rodon) had done but baseball is different every day so we had to see what he had,” Harrison said. “We were able to work counts and get in hitters counts and capitalize.”
The Pirates have faced left-handed pitchers so infrequently this season they decided to hire former major leaguer Chris Peters over the weekend to toss some batting practice from the left side to help them prepare for a stretch in which they will take on lefties in four straight games.
The early returns were promising. Pittsburgh wasted little time attacking Rodon.
Harrison led off with a walk, Marte followed with an infield hit and Andrew McCutchen and Kang laced RBI singles to left. Cervelli, who leads National League catchers in batting average and on-base percentage, then ripped a Rodon offering into the gap in right-center to score two more. Jose Tabata kept it going with a run-scoring single up the middle. By the time Rodon finally recorded an out, the White Sox trailed 5-0.
The 22-year-old labored through two more innings before finally being lifted after Harrison singled home Mercer with two outs in the fourth to make it 6-0. He slumped his way back to the dugout after seeing his ERA balloon from 2.66 to 3.86.
“For a young guy I think everybody has those,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “But after that particularly went well for us. We didn’t do anything good after that. It’s that simple.”
The outburst came after the Pirates managed all of six runs while sweeping the reeling Phillies over the weekend. Liriano didn’t let the run support go to waste. The White Sox didn’t record a hit until Melky Cabrera’s single leading off the fifth. The inning ended with Pittsburgh’s major-league leading 73rd double play turn of the season.
The Pirates signed first-round pick Kevin Newman on Monday. The 21-year-old shortstop will begin his professional career with the West Virginia Black Bears of the New York-Penn League next week.
Newman hit .370 with 19 doubles, 36 RBI and 22 stolen bases for Arizona in 2015 while making the All-Pac 12 team.
The series continues on Tuesday when Chicago’s Jose Quintana (3-6, 4.00) faces Pittsburgh’s Charlie Morton (4-0, 2.05). Quintana has rebounded from a rough opening month of the season, winning each of his last two starts. Morton is unbeaten since returning from hip surgery last month, including 7 1-3 shutout innings in a victory over Milwaukee last Wednesday.
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