Pirates rely on Liriano at Coors Field

Francisco Liriano has made it a habit this season of shutting down opposing offenses, but has never before pitched at hitter- friendly Coors Field.

The way the Colorado Rockies hit during their recent road trip, it might not matter where they play at this point.

Liriano eyes a fourth straight winning start on Friday night when his Pittsburgh Pirates open up a three-game series versus the struggling Rockies.

The left-handed Liriano has allowed one earned run or less in 11 of his 16 starts this season, going 12-4 with a 2.02 earned run average. The 12 victories are the most for Liriano in a season since he won a career-high 14 with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 and are the highest total for a Pirates lefty since Tom Gorzelanny went 14-10 in 2007.

Liriano has yielded just one run over 21 2/3 innings during his three-start win streak and won for the seventh time in eight starts last Saturday in a 5-2 decision over the visiting Rockies. The 29-year-old gave up just two hits over seven scoreless innings and was able to work around five walks while striking out six.

"Liriano is one of those guys that if you don't get to him early it makes it real tough," said Colorado manager Walt Weiss.

Liriano was facing the Rockies for only the second time in his career, splitting the two decisions.

Jorge De La Rosa took the loss against Liriano last weekend, falling to 10-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 23 starts this year after giving up three runs on six hits and two walks over four innings. That included a solo homer to Jose Tabata in the fourth inning and the lefty needed 91 pitches, just 59 for strikes, to get through his short outing.

The 32-year-old is 3-3 with a 4.24 in 12 previous meetings with the Pirates, including eight starts, and will look to hit the strike zone more often tonight.

De La Rosa may need to be sharp tonight given Colorado's performance on its recent road trip. After dropping the opener of the 10-game swing in Atlanta on July 29 by a 9-8 margin, the Rockies hit just .216 and averaged 1.7 runs per game over the final nine contests.

The lone win on the trek came last Friday in Pittsburgh, but Colorado lost the final five games and plated just three runs in getting swept by the New York Mets in three games.

The Rockies also lost a pair of key contributors to the disabled list during the swing, with Carlos Gonzalez's nagging sprained right middle finger putting him on the shelf Wednesday before starter Tyler Chatwood was lost to right elbow inflammation on Thursday.

Gonzalez is hitting .302 with 26 homes and 70 RBI this season, leaving the struggling Rockies without their best hitter.

"Offensively, we haven't done very well," said Rox second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who had three hits in Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Mets. "So it will be nice to get back home and hopefully we can turn it around a little bit.

While the Rockies return home struggling, things could not have gone better for the Pirates during their recently-completed homestand. Pittsburgh went 9-2 on the stay, its first nine-win homestand since 2005.

Even the loss of center fielder Andrew McCutchen from Thursday's starting lineup wasn't enough to derail the Pirates, who rallied from an early 4-0 hole to beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 in 10 innings on Thursday to complete a three- game sweep.

Russell Martin was the hero, with his pinch-hit single scoring Josh Harrison with two outs.

"He responded tremendously in the opportunity," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Martin pinch-hitting. "Excellent team win and a strong homestand for us."

McCutchen, hitting .313 with 16 homers and 65 RBI in 111 games this season, was a late scratch due to tightness in his right shoulder. He was able to pinch-hit on Thursday and is day-to-day.

Pittsburgh's fifth straight victory pushed its lead over St. Louis for first place in the NL Central to four games.

After taking two of three at home from the Rockies last weekend, the Pirates have won seven of the past 10 encounters in this series.