The Pirates offense got back on track in a big way Thursday night, touching up starter Doug Fister for four runs and added three more off of the Nationals bullpen in a 7-3 win against the NL East leading Washington Nationals.
The offense pounded out 13 hits, eight of them for extra bases after only mustering three extra base hits the previous two games against the Royals.
“We were waiting on our pitches to hit, getting good pitches to hit, and when we got them we hit them,” Andrew McCutchen said following tonight’s game in which he smashed his 13th home run of the season. “As of late, we haven’t been hitting those pitches.”
The four-five-six hitters – Starling Marte, Jung Ho Kang and Pedro Alvarez – combined to go five-for-eleven with a home run, a triple, two doubles and four RBIs to lead the way offensively.
Starter Francisco Liriano was back on the mound for the first time since the All-Star break, and the first time since missing his last start due to neck stiffness.
Rust was not a problem for Liriano, as he absolutely dominated an injury-riddled Nationals lineup. Through the first four innings, the first twelve outs included nine strikeouts and he assisted on the other three. Liriano pitched six total innings, giving up only three hits, one earned run, while striking out eleven.
“[After] eleven days off, it was fun to watch,” Hurdle said after the game. “I can’t remember a game through four innings where the only people who played were the pitcher, the catcher and first baseman. I hadn’t seen that before through four innings. He punched out nine, made three plays. Two of the plays he made were incredibly quick and athletic, with really strong throws to first. It was good to have him back.”
Jared Hughes and Antonio Bastardo combined to pitch two scoreless innings, while Arquimedes Caminero continued his struggles, giving up two runs in the ninth inning before closing it out.
KEY MOMENT: After losing his no-hitter in the fifth inning, Liriano seemingly lost all control for about ten pitches, including two wild pitches that allowed one run to score, cutting the lead to 2-1, and allowing another runner to reach third base with no outs. Liriano was able to settle down and rediscover his command. He struck out Dan Uggla for the second time of the night to record the first out, walked Tyler Moore, struck out Doug Fister attempting to bunt the runner over to second base, and induced a ground out by leadoff hitter Michael Taylor to escape the jam, strand the runners and maintain the 2-1 lead.
“That fifth inning was almost like a ride at Disney World for everybody there,” Hurdle joked. “[Liriano] kept it in check like only he could do – throw 33 pitches and only give up one run. That was big.”
In the bottom of the fifth inning the Pirates were able to build on the lead with a Jung Ho Kang double that scored Marte, followed by an RBI ground out by Alvarez to score Kang, extending the lead to 4-1. The Nationals never threatened the rest of the way after the fifth inning.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Francisco Liriano: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11 K
**The big news of the night was the Pirates’ acquisition of 37-year old third baseman Aramis Ramirez from Milwaukee. Ramirez is batting .247 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs in 81 games so far this season. Ramirez started the season off slowly, when he batted only .222 with a .642 OPS through the month of June, but has really heated up since the start of July. He’s batted .352 in 54 at bats to go along with a .922 OPS.
Ramirez is certainly an upgrade over what the Pirates currently have at third base since Mercer and Harrison went down with injuries, and should provide the Pirates with a solid right-handed bat option until the two injured infielders make their way back onto the field. Hurdle believes that Ramirez will have a very positive impact moving forward.
“I think what we wanted to get was an established player, an experienced player that’s been a run producer, that’s looking to do something significant in his last season,” Hurdle said. “He’s coming back to a place that he’s probably got some fond memories. There are some people in our organization that still speak very highly of the man. We like the skill set as well. We didn’t get him here to shake hands; we got him here to play and to swing the bat. I think he’ll lengthen the lineup for sure. We’ll be able to get him wedged in the middle of the order. I’m glad we have him.”
It was key for the Pirates to make this move as quickly as they possibly could in order to avoid running out career fringe major leaguers on a nightly basis until Harrison and Mercer come back. McCutchen is happy that the Pirates were able to make this deal to help the team right now, but it did not come as a surprise to him that it occurred.
“They want to win just as much as we do. It’s no surprise for me personally. They’ve shown it the past couple of years that they want to win. That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s been the change in this team,” McCutchen said.
** Francisco Liriano said that his neck was still a little sore tonight during his outing, but had no ill effects on his pitching or fielding, as he made two rangy, athletic fielding plays to start tonight’s game without any issue. He expects to be good to go moving forward.