Liriano gets easy win in Pirates debut
NEW YORK -- Francisco Liriano was the only player in the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting lineup to go hitless during a 16-hit breakout Saturday afternoon.
But the lifelong American Leaguer more than made up for it on the mound, where Liriano struck out nine batters in 5 1/3 solid innings in his Pirates debut as Pittsburgh routed the New York Mets 11-2 at soggy Citi Field.
"He's pitched before and he's been good," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Liriano, who finished third in the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year balloting and struck out 201 batters in 2010 but battled arm woes in stints with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.
"You're always encouraged by a man's first outing of the season. That's like Opening Day for him," Hurdle said. "To give us the distance he did, you take it and you move on."
Liriano had been sidelined with a broken right humerus bone suffered during a household accident Christmas morning. He picked up where he left off during an impressive rehab stint in the minors, where he struck out 33 batters and walked just four in 21 2/3 innings over five starts.
Mixing a slider and changeup with a low-90s fastball, Liriano got 18 swings and misses on 90 pitches. He allowed one run on six hits and two walks and recorded at least one strikeout in every inning but the third.
"(It felt) a little weird, a little nervous. That all went away," Liriano said. "Just felt good to get the first one out of the way and move forward and (to) get ready for my next start and trying to get used to it again."
The Pirates provided Liriano plenty of support, with a run in the second before a three-run third and a five-run fifth that chased Mets starter Jonathon Niese.
Jose Tabata went 4-for-5 with three RBI and finished a triple shy of the cycle. Jordy Mercer hit two homers -- his first two-homer game as a major-leaguer. And Michael McHenry also had three RBI for the Pirates (20-16), who set season highs for runs scored in a game as well as runs scored over a two-game span (18). Clint Barmes had a pair of RBI singles and Starling Marte also had two singles.
The Pirates had two three-run innings Friday, when they cruised to a 7-3 win.
"Anytime you can really keep going and get as many runs as you can early, I think it takes pressure off our pitcher," Mercer said. "They come out and they throw strikes and it makes the game a lot easier for them."
The Mets' woes on the mound and at the plate continued as they lost for the fourth time in six games. New York (14-19) has scored just 11 runs in its last five games and hasn't received a quality start from someone other than Matt Harvey since Jeremy Hefner allowed two runs in eight innings on April 30.
"It's a pretty big problem for us because our bullpen's shot, so it's created a major issue for us," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to start getting some quality innings out of our starters."
Niese's slump deepened as he tied a career high by surrendering eight runs, all earned, in 4 1/3 innings. Niese allowed eight hits and three walks while striking out just one. He is 1-4 with a 7.62 ERA in his last six starts.
Tabata's two-run homer capped the third-inning rally while his RBI double -- which was a couple feet shy of clearing the center field wall -- ended Niese's afternoon in the fifth.
The four-hit game was the third of Tabata's career. He had two chances to complete the cycle but singled in the seventh and flew out to left in the ninth.
Tabata, a one-time hot prospect who entered this season with a .271 career average and just 11 homers in 1,072 big-league at-bats, is 7-of-17 since returning to the Pirates as a pinch-hitter Thursday after missing six straight starts with a sore left hamstring.
"We have liked Jose for a long time," Hurdle said. "And what you're seeing now is a kid that's learned some very valuable lessons about the conditioning part of it, about the ability of another chance, the importance of it."
Marlon Byrd had two hits for the Mets, including an RBI single in the sixth. Andrew Brown homered leading off the ninth.
NOTES: The game was delayed 47 minutes by torrential rains following the top of the ninth inning. ... Mets third baseman David Wright played a day after fouling a ball off his left knee and made a handful of nice plays at the hot corner. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, he fielded a high chopper from Liriano and began a 5-3 double play. ... Reliever Jeurys Familia was unavailable for the second straight game due to biceps tendinitis. ... Pirates catcher Russell Martin missed his fourth start in five games with a stiff neck. With Martin's short-term status uncertain, the Pirates brought up catcher Tony Sanchez from Triple-A to serve on their "taxi squad." He either has to be activated before Sunday's series finale or sent back to the minor leagues. ... Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, on the disabled list with a lacerated right hand, was scheduled to play all seven innings in the first game of a doubleheader with Double-A Altoona Saturday and to get two at-bats in the nightcap. He'll then play all nine innings Sunday. ... To make room for Liriano, the Pirates optioned right-handed pitcher Duke Welker to Triple-A Indianapolis.