Pirates-Padres Preview

NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO (STATS Writer)
The Associated PressJune 4, 2014

The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the brink of matching their longest winning streak of the season and inching closer to .500.

Francisco Liriano tries to build on his first victory and lead the Pirates to a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh (28-30) has won five of six, including three in a row after beating San Diego 4-1 on Tuesday. The Pirates try to conclude a 10-game road trip with a seventh victory and move within a game of the break-even mark for the first time since they were 8-9 on April 18.

Liriano (1-5, 4.62 ERA) collected a career-high 16 wins last year, but needed 12 starts to get his first of 2014. The left-hander had eight strikeouts while battling through 100 pitches in 5 2-3 scoreless innings of a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.

Despite Liriano's overall record, he's been effective away from Pittsburgh, compiling a 2.70 ERA in five starts. However, he has just a 1-2 record to show for it since he's been backed by five total runs.

Liriano's ability to keep the Pirates in games isn't lost on manager Clint Hurdle.

"That's what we continue to tell Frank," Hurdle said. "Fortunately, he's been around. He's had to battle through so many things, and this is just the next thing he's going to get challenged by at the major league level. He's kept his composure and his confidence, so we'll see where he can take it. I just believe it's going to get better and better for him."

Liriano earned a 3-1 win in his only visit to Petco Park on Aug. 19, striking out 13 in seven scoreless innings.

San Diego's offense hasn't inspired much confidence during a three-game losing streak, hitting .122 with five runs while striking out 31 times. The lineup is 2 for 15 with runners in scoring position in this series.

The Padres (26-33) may not need to do much at the plate, however, given the way Ian Kennedy (4-6, 3.42) has been pitching.

The right-hander has yielded two runs and six hits with 15 strikeouts over 12 innings in winning his last two starts. That was a welcome change after he lost his previous two by surrendering nine runs and 17 hits in 12 2-3 innings.

Despite his recent success, Kennedy struggled with his command through 107 pitches in six innings in Friday's 4-1 road win over the Chicago White Sox. The only run he gave up came on a wild pitch, while he struck out nine and walked three.

"It was the effectively wild approach," Kennedy told the team's official website.

Kennedy was charged with a 10-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Sept. 19, surrendering six runs while being pulled with two outs in the fourth. He also served up a two-run homer to Neil Walker, while Pedro Alvarez connected for a solo shot.

They both had two-run homers Tuesday, and Walker has four hits with five RBIs in this series.

Alvarez has five hits and five RBIs in his last three games, but he's 2 for 14 off Kennedy. Walker is 8 for 18 (.444) with three homers in his matchups.