Nine days between starts was too much for Francisco Liriano.
The left-hander lacked his usual control, resulting in his shortest outing of the season. Brandon Phillips drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double, and the Cincinnati Reds tightened the NL Central race by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-3, on Friday night.
The third-place Reds moved to within three games of second-place Pittsburgh. The Pirates lead their season series 6-5.
The Reds sent nine batters to the plate for four runs in the fifth off Liriano (9-4), who had his shortest outing of the season. Chris Heisey’s infield single drove in the first run, and Phillips’ double off Justin Wilson made it 5-0.
“One of those days I didn’t get any rhythm,” Liriano said. “I tried to make good pitches and it didn’t work out. Everything was up. I was rushing a little bit.
“I didn’t get anything going. Just one of those days.”
Heisey also had a solo homer off Liriano, who is 0-3 in three starts against Mike Leake and the Reds this season. In the last two games, he got little support from his offense. This time, his control deserted him. Liriano needed 98 pitches to go 41/3 innings.
“Nine days off the mound,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He was trying to get back into a rhythm. He threw more pitches than he wanted to. We were a pitch or two away from getting out of situations. We’ve gotten out of those situations before. We couldn’t tonight.”
Leake (9-4) gave up solo homers to Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Russell Martin in the sixth inning. Manny Parra fanned Pedro Alvarez with runners on second and third to end the seventh.
Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the ninth while getting his 22nd save in 25 chances.
Leake has won his last three decisions against Pittsburgh, giving the Pirates a tough time all-around. The three homers represented a breakthrough.
“Too bad we weren’t able to jump on him earlier than we did,” McCutchen said.
The Ohio River rivals have produced the majors’ most painful pairings this season. Nineteen batters have been hit by pitches — the Reds 10 times, the Pirates nine times — in their 11 games. Nobody was hit on Friday, a rare game that didn’t leave a mark.
The Pirates emerged from the All-Star break with their best record in 37 years. Their 56 wins were their most at the break since the World Series champion Pirates of 1971 had 57 wins.