PITTSBURGH -- A five-run lead entering the fourth inning couldn't save the Pirates from their own bullpen in a 7-6 loss to the Giants on Wednesday.Pittsburgh's offense wasted no time in establishing a lead -- a team that's gone 5-16 in June was encouraged to see Giants starter Jeff Samardzija
PITTSBURGH -- A five-run lead entering the fourth inning couldn't save the Pirates from their own bullpen in a 7-6 loss to the Giants on Wednesday.
Pittsburgh's offense wasted no time in establishing a lead -- a team that's gone 5-16 in June was encouraged to see Giants starter Jeff Samardzija pulled after three innings. But as starter Francisco Liriano began to dwindle, so did the Pirates' fragile lead.
Liriano, who had registered four straight losses entering Wednesday's game, gave up an RBI double to Buster Posey and a sacrifice fly to Angel Pagan to shave the Pirates' lead to two runs. Jared Hughes replaced Liriano and gave up three runs in the sixth. Pitching again doomed the Pirates, as they watched their lead crumble and their record drop to 34-38.
"Nothing's going the way we want it to," Liriano said, "so we've just got to keep battling and keep playing."
Inconsistencies from the bullpen are relatively unfamiliar for the Pirates. In 2013, Pittsburgh's bullpen ranked third in the Majors with an ERA of 2.89. In 2014, it ranked ninth with an ERA of 3.28. Last season, the Pirates' bullpen ranked first with an ERA of 2.67. This season, it has climbed to 4.37, and leads are no longer as safe as they have been in years past.
"Every time you go out there and you've got the lead and you don't leave with the lead, it's going to be extremely frustrating," Hughes said. "Today was right along par with that. Left without the lead, and it was extremely frustrating."
Granted, as manager Clint Hurdle pointed out, the Pirates didn't add to that lead when they had the chance. The Giants' bullpen held Pittsburgh scoreless through the final six innings.
"What happened, we scored six quick and after that we were pretty much just stopped," Hurdle said. "We had a couple opportunities, and that was what complicated things for us. Their bullpen pitched extremely well."
Hughes, whose WHIP has climbed to 1.83, said the problems in the bullpen vary for each player. Those problems can't linger much longer if the Pirates are to climb out of their recent slump.
"I know it's probably different for different guys," Hughes said. "For me, it's going to be getting ahead in the count. I know I've given up way too many free passes this year, falling behind in the count a few too many times. So starting tomorrow, get ahead in the count and get the ground balls."
Sarah K. Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.