DETROIT -- The Cubs arguably started Francisco Liriano on his midsummer slump seven weeks ago. On Wednesday night, they continued it.The Tigers left-hander was better in Wednesday's 8-2 loss than he was six days earlier, when he recorded just five outs against the Twins. For four innings, he was borderline
DETROIT -- The Cubs arguably started Francisco Liriano on his midsummer slump seven weeks ago. On Wednesday night, they continued it.
The Tigers left-hander was better in Wednesday's 8-2 loss than he was six days earlier, when he recorded just five outs against the Twins. For four innings, he was borderline dominant, continuing the Cubs' offense on its nearly week-long slump. Then came the fifth inning.
"I started out the way I wanted to," Liriano said. "I was throwing more strikes than in my last start. I just didn't finish the way I wanted to, but I felt better than my last start."
The middle innings have been the end for Liriano for most of the last two months.
When the Cubs handed Detroit a 5-2 loss on July 4 at Wrigley Field, Liriano finished with a quality start for his trouble that day, allowing three runs over six innings despite five walks. When Liriano retired Jason Heyward in the sixth inning on Wednesday, it marked the first time Liriano retired a batter in the sixth since that July 4 outing.
Heyward was the last batter Liriano faced Wednesday on the way to his eighth loss since his last win on April 28. Liriano has lost four consecutive starts for the second time in three months, and hasn't completed a third turn through a lineup since that July 4 outing.
The Tigers signed Liriano in Spring Training with the goal of getting innings from a veteran starter and eventually getting a prospect or two in a trade return. As trade hopes fade, the club needs the innings to help along an injury-depleted rotation. Liriano's early exits would be hurting them more if not for recently strong stretches from Jordan Zimmermann and Matthew Boyd.
"That was a lot better than his last couple outings," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "and we'll take a step forward with that."
It was not as big of a step as it was shaping up to be, considering how Liriano rolled through a slumping Cubs lineup early. Albert Almora Jr.s second-inning double and David Bote's ensuing walk was all Liriano allowed over his first four innings. Liriano retired seven in a row from there, two on strikeouts before five consecutive groundouts. He faced just two three-ball counts out of his first 15 batters, and he threw first-pitch strikes to eight of them.
Liriano was still working ahead to begin the fifth. Almora broke the string with a leadoff single, but Liriano put Bote in a 1-2 count with a pair of sliders on the outside corner for called strikes. After Bote took a fastball inside, Liriano went back to the slider, his swing-and-miss pitch, and it missed. Bote gave the Cubs the lead with a two-run homer.
"I tried to go down and in, and it stayed right down the middle," Liriano said.
From there, Liriano's outing changed. He fell behind hitters, perhaps trying to locate the corners, and slowed his tempo. Six consecutive Cubs reached base safely to begin the inning, the lone out coming on Nicholas Castellanos' ninth outfield assist of the season. Anthony Rizzo hit into a double play to finally end the three-run frame, but Benjamin Zobrist's leadoff double in the sixth set up Liriano's exit.
"He pitched his way through it," Gardenhire said. "It just got to the situation where his pitch count got up there. We had to get him out of there then, but he battled through some things.
"He was better tonight. He was better for the first four innings. He was fantastic. His ball was moving and darting, and he had them off-balance up there. He just made a couple pitches and they jumped on him. There you have it."
Cubs starter Jonathan Lester (14-5) also was chased in the sixth, but Ronny Rodriguez's second-inning RBI single comprised all of his damage over 5 2/3 innings of seven-hit, one-run ball. The Tigers rallied for a Jim Adduci bases-loaded walk in the eighth, but back-to-back homers from Javier Baez and Rizzo in a four-run ninth off Victor Alcantara put the game away.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Strop leaves bases loaded: Adduci's walk was the lone tally gained from a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity that Cubs reliever Pedro Strop inherited in the eighth. He retired Victor Martinez on a fly ball to shallow center, and after he walked Adduci, James McCann hit a ground ball up the middle that sent Baez ranging behind second base, where he fielded the ball and threw to first to end the threat.
"He's got great range, and he made it look pretty easy," Gardenhire said. "But it wasn't that easy of a play."
Castellanos' ninth assist put him one behind Mitch Haniger of the Mariners for the American League lead. No Tigers right fielder has led his position in assists since Torii Hunter tied for the AL lead with nine in 2013.
Boyd (7-11, 4.27 ERA) will face the White Sox for the first time since nearly no-hitting them last September as the American League Central rivals open a four-game series at 1:10 p.m. ET on Thursday at Comerica Park. Right-hander James Shields (5-14, 4.39 ERA) is scheduled to start for Chicago.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.