If the Pittsburgh Pirates plan on making another run at the postseason, they'll likely need a lot more from Francisco Liriano than what he gave them in the first half.
His outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers was a rare exception.
After a solid start coming out of the All-Star break, Liriano will try to deliver another promising performance Wednesday night against the only team he's beaten in 16 starts this season.
Liriano (1-7, 4.43 ERA) won nine of his 12 starts prior to last season's break with a 2.00 ERA on his way to winning NL Comeback Player of the Year, but as has been the case throughout his career, he's failing to put together back-to-back good seasons.
He was headed for more trouble Friday against Colorado, but escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first and got through the same situation in the second while allowing just one unearned run. The left-hander didn't surrender a hit over his final three innings, finishing with eight strikeouts before the Pirates (53-47) rallied for a 4-2 victory.
"When I started hitting my spot with my fastball in, things started to get better," Liriano said.
Liriano has the NL's worst walk rate (4.98 per nine innings) of anyone to log 80 innings, but he was mostly hitting his spots at Chavez Ravine on May 30. He held the Dodgers (56-46) to five hits and two walks over 5 2-3 scoreless, striking out eight in a 2-1 victory that remains his only one since the 2013 wild-card game.
Tuesday's contest at PNC Park was tilted more toward the offenses. Neil Walker and Ike Davis homered in the second inning, and rookie Gregory Polanco went deep in the third before delivering the go-ahead two-run single in the sixth as the Pirates won 12-7.
"The thing that's been impressive with him is he hasn't changed anything," Walker said of Polanco, who entered the night in a 6-for-45 slump. "He hasn't tried to go up there and force the issue and hack away at the first thing he sees. Tonight was one of those nights he trusted his eyes and he trusted himself in a huge spot in a huge game and got a big hit for us."
In the middle of Pittsburgh's four-run sixth, Los Angeles reliever Jamey Wright hit Andrew McCutchen. When Justin Wilson drilled the Dodgers' Justin Turner to lead off the seventh, he was ejected, as was manager Clint Hurdle.
Pittsburgh batters have been hit more than any in baseball (58), and Pirates pitchers also lead the majors in hitting opposing batters (56).
Dan Haren (8-7, 4.30) isn't hitting anyone, but everyone seems to be hitting him. The right-hander is 0-3 with a 9.64 ERA in July, allowing 24 hits in 14 innings.
"The last two years I've had spots where I really struggled and I was able to get through them. I just have to look at that," Haren told MLB's official website after giving up three runs and eight hits over 4 2-3 innings in Friday's 3-2 loss at St. Louis. "... I've had a couple tough ones in a row. I've got to give us a better chance to win like I was the majority of the season."
Haren is second in the NL with 20 homers allowed and has given up two in each of his last three starts against Pittsburgh, going 0-2 with a 6.62 ERA. Russell Martin and Pedro Alvarez, who exited Tuesday's game with left knee discomfort, took him deep May 29.
Yasiel Puig missed his third straight game and Hanley Ramirez his second in a row with wrist injuries. Both are day to day.