Kris Bryant, the Cubs' first-round Draft pick who led the nation with 31 home runs, said Thursday he felt he was ready to play in the big leagues now. The Cubs could've used his bat.
"Obviously, if our offense puts a few on the board, it changes the whole game," Chicago's Darwin Barney said. "Sometimes you have to tip your cap to Liriano and not let him be one of those guys who starts slumps with hitters. Right now, he's making his pitches and not giving in."
In the May game, Liriano outdueled Jeff Samardzija and struck out nine. On Friday, the Pirates lefty fanned eight. He did not serve up a hit until pitcher Travis Wood singled with one out in the fifth. Wood was forced at second on Barney's grounder.
"He's done this to everybody," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Liriano. "When he's right and he has his velocity, he's basically in the CC Sabathia-type category where he has great velocity but really doesn't throw his fastball that much. He's got great command of his changeup and slider. He's one of those guys where it's very, very difficult if he's on with his offspeed stuff -- it's going to be a tough day."
The Cubs did work the counts, drawing five walks off Liriano, who was able to escape jams with his offspeed pitches. Chicago stranded two in the second, two in the fourth and two in the fifth.
"For the most part, his best pitches have been offspeed, so he's been using his fastball in breaking-ball situations," Martin said of Liriano, who improved to 13-6 with a 2.80 ERA against National League teams. "He's been pitching backwards, and it's been effective. When you've got 94 [mph], as a hitter, you've got to honor that. For the most part, hitters want the fastball anyway."
Wood was also stingy. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second when he struck out Liriano, then retired the next 10 batters before Jordy Mercer doubled with one out in the sixth. One out later, Gaby Sanchez walked and Martin then lined an RBI double to left.
"I got the outs when I needed, except the one that really counted," Wood said.
The Pirates added a run in the ninth off Carlos Villanueva when Martin walked, moved up on Pedro Alvarez's single and scored one out later on Travis Snider's fielder's choice. Snider hit the ball to third baseman Luis Valbuena, who opted to try for the double play instead of throwing home.
"He knows after the fact that something broke down there," Sveum said of Valbuena. "That run is very, very important. A left-handed hitter hitting a ground ball, you need to throw that guy out at home. The odds of turning a double play, especially when you're trying to take the pull side away with Villanueva pitching -- there's a 99 percent chance he's going to pull Villanueva, so Barney wasn't going to be near the bag anyway."
Barney wasn't near second and wasn't able to turn the double play.
"As a defense, we play shifty a little bit, and in that situation, I'm going to take that hole," Barney said. "I think, and it's not for me to say, but I went through all the situations in my head and [Valbuena throwing to him] was not one that popped up.
"It's just tough, because as a third baseman, you get a hard ground ball at you, you're obviously trying to turn two," Barney said. "It didn't play out. Maybe a little more communication would've helped."
Asked if he would do the same thing again, Valbuena said it depended on the runner.
"If he's slow, I'll go home," Valbuena said. "If I get a double play, the inning is over."
Wood had one week off since his last start May 30, when he picked up a win over the White Sox. The lefty did notch his 11th quality start in 12 games and lowered his ERA to 2.65.
"He's pitched like an All-Star," Sveum said of Wood. "They are not just quality starts, [he's giving up] one or two runs, not three."
One of the keys to his success? Wood studies the game plan with coach Mike Borzello leading up to his starts.
"The biggest thing is he's able to execute his pitches," Sveum said of Wood. "He's able to throw to his arm side and stick to a game plan."
"Travis has been the same all year," Barney said. "He's been consistent, pounding the zone. When he's pitching, it's fun to play behind him, because you know he's throwing strikes."
So is Jason Grilli, who picked up his Major League-leading 23rd save in the ninth. With the loss, the Cubs dropped to 2-5 against the Pirates this season and 6-17 against the NL Central. The six wins are the fewest for any club within its own division.