Pirates visit Padres for 3-game series

There's never a good time for a team to hear its opening day starter has been scratched, but getting that news just 10 days into the season had to be especially disconcerting for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Finding out that Francisco Liriano would miss just one outing? Talk about a sigh of relief.

The Pirates should be even more comforted by the matchup Liriano gets in his Tuesday night return against a San Diego Padres club that's looked lost outside of the thin Denver air and has had no answers for the left-hander since he donned black and gold.

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Liriano (1-0, 2.45 ERA) tossed six scoreless innings and struck out 10 against St. Louis in Pittsburgh's April 3 opener before giving up three runs and allowing 10 baserunners over five at Cincinnati five days later.

His chance to bounce back never happened as originally intended Wednesday against Detroit, with the Pirates (7-6) scratching Liriano due to a tight right hamstring. But a bullpen session Saturday went well, and he'll take the ball as Pittsburgh opens a 10-game trip.

"Just ready to go on Tuesday, go out there and try to go as deep as I can in the game," Liriano told the team's official website. "Execute pitches and we'll go from there. ... We didn't want to rush (Wednesday). Now everything feels good, and we're ready to go."

That can't be pleasant news for the Padres (4-9), whose 10 games outside of Coors Field - where they scored 32 times in three games - have totaled 15 runs. Ten of those 15 came over the weekend against Arizona, but those weren't enough to earn them their first series win after Sunday's 7-3 defeat.

Facing Liriano hasn't gone well for San Diego over the past three seasons. He's posted a 1.74 ERA in five starts against the Padres since joining the Pirates, striking out 41 in 31 innings and allowing just four extra-base hits - all doubles - to the 120 batters he's faced.

To Clint Hurdle, getting Liriano back will have a ripple effect on a bullpen that ranks toward the bottom of baseball with a 4.89 ERA after leading the majors at 2.64 a year ago.

"Having Francisco back in play is definitely an opportunity for us to leverage a strength," Hurdle said. "I'd like to believe the continuity of the starts will give us more continuity in the back end of the bullpen and through the other guys out there, so we can settle guys down and find some routine and roles that we want to build upon."

Colin Rea (0-1, 5.56) will pitch for the Padres hoping his third start is far more like his second than his first. The right-hander gave up five runs and didn't make it through the fourth April 8 at Colorado, then lasted seven innings and held Philadelphia to two runs - one earned - in Wednesday's 2-1 loss.

"He was mixing everything - cutters, curveballs, fastballs, two-seamers," catcher Christian Bethancourt said. "Everything was down in the strikezone, and he was locating very well."

In his first career look at the Pirates, Rea will find a team that's getting on base plenty - but also leaving lots of runners there. Pittsburgh's average (.295) and on-base percentage (.385) lead the majors, but Hurdle's club has left 119 men on, easily the highest total in baseball.

Fourteen stranded Sunday didn't matter. The Pirates pounded out 17 hits in a 9-3 win to take two of three from Milwaukee.

"The club has continued to build some momentum as far as the battle-in-the-box mentality," Hurdle said of a team that's second in the NL with 4.01 pitches seen per plate appearance. "We saw over 170 pitches."

Pittsburgh took five of seven meetings in 2015, its first season series win over San Diego since 2003.