Pirates to watch Liriano closely in second half

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates hit the reset button on their season Friday night, resuming the season with a game against Colorado at PNC Park.

It was their first game since last Sunday, and their first home game in nearly two weeks.

Francisco Liriano started for the Pirates, and that was by design. Usually the first start after the All-Star break goes to a team’s best pitcher, but that isn’t the case. Liriano won just one of 16 starts through the first three and a half months of the season.

But he’s arguably the Pirates’ most important pitcher, and that’s why the rotation was set up with him leading off.

“He has four days (off) and back out there again, and he’ll match up against the Dodgers in the last game of the homestand,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s going to be right on schedule and I think three games in that significant a time period should give him a chance, with the adrenalin worn off, to settle in and be a guy we can count on moving forward.”

The Pirates will be watching Liriano closely in these two starts. In addition to being the one starter who is kept on his regular schedule, Liriano is also more comfortable pitching in PNC Park. He is the only starter who gets two games in this six-game homestand. They’re doing everything to establish a comfort level for him.

The team is desperate to get Liriano on the right track. If he fails to do that, maybe the Pirates will intensify their search for starting pitching help in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

There is no clear No. 1 starter, a role that Liriano so capably filled last season en route to a 16-8 record, 3.02 earned run average and National League Comeback Player of the Year honors.

“We all know the impact he can have on this team and this rotation when he’s pitching the way he’s capable of pitching,” Hurdle said.

Liriano came off the disabled list with an oblique strain last Sunday to pitch in Cincinnati. He struggled with his control, walking six. In Friday’s start, he walked two batters in a 27-pitch first inning before a double play bailed him out.

“He just needs to get some confidence,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “Confidence breeds success, and that breeds more confidence, and it’s a nice snowball effect.”‘

If the Pirates are to have a snowball’s chance at reaching the postseason again, they need some quality starts from Liriano.

In the hunt

The Milwaukee Brewers hit the skids in advance of the All-Star break, and that allowed everyone to get closer in the National League Central.

The Pirates started play on Friday in fourth place, but just three and a half games behind the division-leading Brewers.

The Pirates would be in an even better spot with better results within the division. They’re 3-10 against Milwaukee, 4-9 against Cincinnati and 6-7 vs. St. Louis.

“It’s a really good division that matches up well,” Hurdle said. “One of the things that would help us is playing better within the division. We didn’t do so much of that, and we’re still at where we are. If you don’t do that, you go to Plan B, which is beat up on everyone else.”

Hurdle declined to predict a victory total that he thought would win the division.

“I think we all feel we have a shot,” he said. “We have 67 games left. We’re still best served when we take it one game at a time.”

Marte returns

Starling Marte was in the lineup for the first time since July 8. He had been on bereavement list following the death of his mother in law.

Western flavor

The Pirates started a stretch that has them playing against the National League West for the next 15 games and 18 of 21.

They opened play on Friday with a 9-4 record against the West.