Manager Clint Hurdle doesn’t care whether people call Francisco Liriano the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace or No. 1 or whatever.
“I’m not big on labels. I just like to pencil his name in every fifth day,” Hurdle said after Liriano struck out a season-high 13 to lead Pittsburgh to Monday’s 3-1 victory against the San Diego Padres.
“I’d never take it for granted and I hope nobody else does when you watch a man go out there and pitch like he does,” Hurdle said. “I hope there’s some appreciation. He continues to just be masterful.”
Pedro Alvarez hit his NL-leading 31st home run and the Pirates, who had lost seven of nine coming in, maintained a one-game lead in the NL Central over St. Louis.
The Padres struck out 17 times overall, giving them 59 in their last five games. They’ve lost nine of 13.
Liriano (14-5) tied his career-high with his 14th victory. He helped give some relief to the Pirates’ bullpen, which was taxed when three of the previous six games went extra innings.
Coming off a four-hit victory at St. Louis in his last start, Liriano held San Diego to four hits in seven innings while walking two.
Liriano’s previous season high was 11 strikeouts on June 1 against Cincinnati. His career high is 15.
Liriano struck out five of the first seven batters and eight of the first 11.
“I was very confident in my fastball,” he said. “I threw it in and out for strikes. Breaking balls were easy for me to throw. I got very confident in my pitches. Instead of trying to do too much, I just hit my spot and let whatever happen.”
In his last four starts after a Bucs’ loss, Liriano has pitched 30 innings and allowed only two earned runs.
“He has an explosive fastball,” Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia said. “He works every part of the zone. He can duplicate his off-speed pitches. It was the first time seeing him this year. There was definitely some adjusting we needed to do. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
Mark Melancon pitched the ninth for his eighth save in 10 chances. He allowed Nick Hundley’s RBI double with two outs.
Alvarez, who had been tied for the NL lead with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, homered on an 0-1 pitch from Andrew Cashner with two outs in the sixth to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. It landed about six rows behind the Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 party deck that sits atop the right-field wall.
The Pirates scored two runs in the fourth on two singles and an error by right fielder Denorfia. With Andrew McCutchen aboard on a leadoff single, Alvarez grounded a single to right field, which rolled under the glove of a charging Denorfia and went all the way to the fence, allowing both runners to score.
“I just missed it,” Denorfia said. “There really is no excuse for it. It’s one of those plays that cost us the game.”
Cashner (8-8) lost his third straight start. He allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits in seven innings, struck out three and walked two.