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(AP) — Francisco Liriano’s return to prominence has been one of the reasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best pitching staff in baseball.
The veteran left-hander has a chance to continue his outstanding run Saturday night when the Pirates host a Colorado Rockies team that could be without one of the NL’s top sluggers.
After winning four of five from St. Louis to take over first place in the NL Central, Pittsburgh (65-44) will attempt to regroup from a 4-2 loss in Friday’s series opener. The Pirates, who also dropped the series finale against the Cardinals, are looking to avoid their first three-game skid since July 14-20, bridging the All-Star break.
Troy Tulowitzki went 2 for 3 with his 20th home run to help the Rockies (52-59) end a four-game losing streak.
The Pirates had their lead in the division cut to one-half game when St. Louis beat Cincinnati, but they should feel confident about getting back on track with Liriano (11-4, 2.16 ERA) on the mound.
Pittsburgh tops the major leagues with a 3.10 ERA and Liriano has posted a 1.89 ERA while winning six of his last seven starts.
Since allowing a season-worst five runs over 4 1-3 innings in a 5-3 loss at Cincinnati on July 19, Liriano has struck out 16 while giving up one run and six hits over 14 2-3 innings in consecutive victories.
“It’s been a good run for him being able to watch, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “I don’t get a lot of action when he’s on the mound. It makes it a lot easier for the defense.”
Liriano has been at his best at home, where he’s 6-1 with a 1.61 ERA in seven outings. He’s struck out 49 and hasn’t given up a homer in 44 2-3 innings there.
He’ll likely face a short-handed Rockies lineup that has totaled nine runs over the last four games.
Carlos Gonzalez entered in the eighth inning Friday as a defensive replacement but expressed doubt that he’d be ready to return to the lineup for this game. The All-Star left fielder, who ranks among the major league leaders with 26 home runs, has a sprained right middle finger.
The Rockies, though, may get Michael Cuddyer back after he missed Friday’s game due to a family emergency. Cuddyer ranks near the top of the majors with a .329 batting average.
Their returns could certainly benefit starter Jorge De La Rosa (10-5, 3.21), who looks to rebound from one of his worst outings of his career. The left-hander allowed eight runs – five earned – and 10 hits over five innings in a 9-8, 10-inning loss in Atlanta on Monday.
De La Rosa has gone 0-1 with a 5.31 ERA in four starts in Pittsburgh, though he hasn’t pitched there since 2011.
McCutchen went 2 for 4 with a double Friday and is 6 for 16 with a homer in his last four games against the Rockies.
Neil Walker is 7 for 15 over that stretch versus Colorado, while Starling Marte is batting .360 during a seven-game hitting streak at PNC Park.
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