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Liriano flashes his rookie form in win over Cubs

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano insists he is only living in the moment. However, he is pitching as if it were 2006 all over again.

The Pirates left-hander allowed just two hits in seven innings and combined with two relievers on a four-hit shutout Wednesday night as Pittsburgh edged the Chicago Cubs 1-0 at PNC Park.

Liriano struck out nine and walked one. It was reminiscent of when he broke in with the Minnesota Twins seven years ago and posted a 12-3 record before succumbing to Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

Liriano has been trying to regain that form ever since, and it looks as if it might be happening with the Pirates, who signed him as a free agent in the offseason.

"I'm just trying to do my job and locate my pitches," Liriano said, shaking off any comparison to 2006, when he was selected to play in the All-Star Game for the only time in his career, ironically enough at PNC Park.

Liriano made it look easy Wednesday night.

"There were a couple stretches tonight that probably presented problems for him in the past, and he was able to come back and make pitches," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "He threw 15 out of 26 first-pitch strikes. When he gets ahead with his fastball, the other stuff plays up dramatically. When he's had fastball command, those are games that are electric for him."

Tony Watson and Mark Melancon finished the four-hit shutout with one inning each. Melancon recorded his first save of the season, getting Darwin Barney to pop out with runners on first and second to end the game.

After beginning the season on the disabled list with a broken right arm, Liriano has won all three of his starts while posting a 1.00 ERA. He's allowed just two runs and 14 hits in 18 innings while striking out 25 and walking six.

"I'm not trying to overthrow," Liriano said. "When I overthrow, I get myself in trouble sometimes. I'm just trying to stay calm and throw strikes."

The Cubs loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but Liriano escaped the jam by getting Julio Borbon to hit into a fielder's choice groundout, striking out Starlin Castro and retiring Anthony Rizzo on a fly ball.

"It's the same old song and dance, get people on but can't get them in," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Whenever you don't do the job, you want the quality of at-bats to be better. We were ahead in the count in all three cases that inning, and we let the at-bat get away from us each time."

Jeff Samardzija (2-6) lost for the first time in five career decisions against Pittsburgh despite allowing only one run and three hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked one.

The Cubs fell to 6-12 in one-run games. Each of their past four losses has been by one run.

"You take it with a grain of salt," Samardzija said of being the tough-luck loser. "That's just the way the game goes sometimes. You give up five runs and get a win sometimes.

"Everybody is playing hard to try to win these games. A play here, a play there, a hit here, a hit there and everything changes. It's just a matter of some things going our way instead of the other way.

Andrew McCutchen had two of the Pirates' three hits, collecting a pair of doubles. He scored the game's lone run when he had a two-out hit in the first and came home on Garrett Jones' single.

Welington Castillo had two of Chicago's four hits.

The Pirates (28-18) won for the 10th time in their last 12 games as they moved a season-high 10 games over .500. The Cubs (18-27) lost their third straight game.

NOTES: Chicago placed RHP Shawn Camp on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right big toe and recalled RHP Rafael Dolis from Triple-A Iowa. The move with Camp came a day after he gave up a grand slam to Pittsburgh OF Travis Snider that proved to be the difference in the Pirates' 5-4 victory Tuesday night. ... Melancon closed because Pirates RHP Jason Grilli, who leads the National League with 18 saves, was unavailable for Wednesday's game and also may not be able to pitch Thursday after needing 34 pitches to pitch the ninth inning Tuesday night. ... Pittsburgh RHP Charlie Morton (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) will make two rehab starts with Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday and May 31, then be re-evaluated. ... Cubs RHP Edwin Jackson (1-6, 5.76 ERA) will start Thursday afternoon against RHP Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.78) in the finale of the three-game series.
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