PITTSBURGH — Both starting pitchers will have something to prove Tuesday when the Seattle Mariners open a two-game stop in Pittsburgh.
That's based on what Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez and Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano did their last time out.
Hernandez (4-4, 3.23 ERA) got a no-decision Wednesday in Seattle's 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox. While his numbers weren't great — five runs on 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings, with two strikeouts and two walks — the fact that he felt strong and lasted 94 pitches (68 of them strikes) and into the seventh inning was encouraging because it was his first game after coming off of DL.
He reported no issues related to the right calf strain that had sidelined him, and that is backed up by his ability to take his regular turn in the rotation right away with the start against the Pirates.
“I had a good sinker, got a lot of ground-ball outs,” Hernandez told MyNorthwest.com. “They were swinging. They were swinging at every pitch. I mean, that's why my pitch count was pretty low.
“Feels good, man. Feels good to finally be back out there. Trying to do my job here and help my team to win.”
Hernandez is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in three career starts against Pittsburgh but has not faced the Pirates since 2013.
He will look to get even further back in the groove Tuesday after his performance against the White Sox exceeded the expectations of Mariners manager Scott Servais.
“First time out, it was probably better than I thought he would be,” Servais said. “To Felix's credit, he hung in there. Really the key to the game for us was how deep he went in the game. We've talked a lot about our starting pitchers, just give us a chance even when you don't have your best stuff. (Hernandez) gave us a chance.”
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has been singing a similar tune.
“We've been trying to push starters to get more length,” he said.
Hurdle and everyone else affiliated with the Pirates also would like to see more, period, from Liriano (6-9, 4.96 ERA), who struggled the first half of the season after being pegged as one of the club's key contributors entering the season.
Things seemed to be getting better slowly, and then Liriano had what might have been a breakout game Thursday.
He struck out a season-best 13 batters, giving up two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-3 win over Milwaukee.
Liriano told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review that it had been “a long time” since his command had been as good and said, “I feel like I've been (improving).”
In July, Liriano is averaging 3.2 walks per nine innings, a low for any month this year.
Hurdle on Thursday was reminded of how good a pitcher Liriano can be. The 32-year-old is six wins shy of 100 and five strikeouts shy of 1,500 for his career.
“I believe he has a good foundation to build off of,” Hurdle said. “The changeup was electric. The slider was disappearing. … Really good stuff. Really good composure. Really impressive outing.
“We've seen this before. It's not like he's digging somewhere he's never been before.”
Liriano is 6-2 with a 2.61 ERA against the Mariners but has not faced them since 2011.
Seattle, 25-25 on the road, had won three in row, five of seven and seven of 11 before running into the brick walk that is Toronto's J.A. Happ and losing 2-0 Sunday. The Mariners matched a season high with 19 hits Saturday in a 14-5 win over the Blue Jays, then matched their season low with one hit Sunday.
Pittsburgh, 28-22 at PNC Park, has won two in a row and five of seven since a three-game losing streak.
Both teams had the day off Monday, with the Mariners spending it in Pittsburgh after traveling there Sunday from Toronto.
For both clubs, this is their second day off since the All-Star break, with another Thursday. The Pirates have another next Monday.
Hurdle said he sees extra days off as neither a bonus (it could hurt momentum when the team is winning) nor a hindrance (it helps with players who are banged up and allows for bullpen rest).
“We take them as they come and you deal with them the best you can,” Hurdle said. “They present a different set of opportunities and challenges with the starting rotation, how you map things out.
“We'll just work with it. I'll take advantage of them personally.”