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Liriano's early exit lets 'pen display mettle

DENVER -- Friday night's 10-1 loss to the Rockies came with a hidden highlight: another stellar performance from the Pirates' bullpen.

After starter Francisco Liriano limped through 2 1/3 innings, allowing 12 hits and 10 runs in his brief outing, relievers Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes and position player Josh Harrison held the Rockies to four hits for the rest of the game. Pittsburgh's bullpen has not allowed a run in four games (16 innings), Friday night indicative of what makes the "Shark Tank" among the best in baseball.

"This bullpen this whole year has been incredibly competitive," Hughes said. "Just attacking the strike zone and forcing contact, I feel like that's what we're good at. And yeah, yesterday was a good example of that. Just really going out there and getting ahead in the count and minimizing pitches so we could go the rest of the game."

Even position player Harrison, pitching for the first time since he was about 14, managed to get the Rockies' final out after Mazzaro and Hughes each threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

But just as important as the arms who make up a bullpen with the second-lowest ERA in the National League (2.82) is the man calling the pitches: catcher Russell Martin.

"When we come in the game, Russ knows what we've got; he knows what to call, and I feel like that's really helped us stay consistent," Hughes said. "He's just an extremely good guy to have behind the plate."

In the eyes of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, making the "Shark Tank" even more valuable to his club is their longevity. Hurdle said he could recall at least three games this year where the starter departed during the first inning or after the first was complete.

"Three times we were challenged dramatically; we won two of the three games," Hurdle said. "So for those guys, and it's been different guys -- [Bryan] Morris has done it, Mazarro's been involved, [Justin] Wilson was the guy one time. ... They take pride in what they do, and as soon as they saw Liriano struggling, they were ready. They were ready to post up and go."

Ian McCue is an associate reporter for
Read More: Pittsburgh Pirates, Jared Hughes, Vin Mazzaro