By Nate Barnes
Contributor to CSNChicago.com
Sunday afternoon Francisco Liriano takes the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs. Liriano, a Cy Young candidate, toes the rubber against Chicago’s own All-Star left-hander Travis Wood.
In Liriano, the Cubs face their toughest challenge of this four-game series in Pittsburgh as Chicago looks to split the series after last night’s 2-1 loss. Liriano (16-7, 2.92 ERA) has made three starts against Chicago this season and earned winning decisions in all three outings.
“He’s another guy, you’re not going to sit there and string a lot of hits together,” manager Dale Sveum said. “If he’s keeping the ball down like he has all year, there were times we faced him, it’s very difficult to string hits together.”
In his three starts against Chicago, Liriano has pitched 23 innings and allowed only two runs on eight hits while striking out 24 batters. Liriano’s last outing came in a complete game July 5, when he held the Cubs to two runs on four hits.
The key for Sveum’s club is patience, the second-year manager said, in order to prevent Liriano from staying down in the zone today.
“He pitches off his off-speed stuff, but obviously with really good velocity to go with it so he keeps you honest,” Sveum said.
Chicago has done a solid job of being patient against Liriano, as the Cubs have worked more walks than hits in their three games against Liriano. The difference now needs to be a big hit that scores runs as Chicago looks to build off the 10 walks it’s worked from Liriano this season.
“You’ve gotta be patient and hope you get a couple walks and somebody pops one, a two-run double,” Sveum said. “Stuff like that is how you score against these guys when they’re on a roll like the kind of guy he is with that velocity."
Part of bringing Liriano’s pitches up higher in the zone will derive from an approach that keeps the Cubs from swinging at the multitude of pitches Liriano throws that look like strikes at his release point, but break out of the zone and draw a lot of swings and misses.
This season, Liriano’s off-speed dealings have been lethal. He’s thrown 18 percent of changeups past the bats of opposing hitters, and batters swing and miss 22 percent of the time Liriano throws his slider.
“His slider’s so hard, he keeps it down and back-foots you that it looks like a fastball coming out, a strike fastball,” Sveum said. “Both his slider and changeup look like strikes, and then they end up balls.”
The Cubs have their work cut out for themselves against Liriano, and ‘patience’ is the buzzword for success this afternoon.
“The bottom line, when games get away from people with that kind of good stuff it’s usually because of walks,” Sveum said. “Somebody might pop one here and there, but it’s the patience when a guy keeps the ball down like that and make the ball get up.”