PITTSBURGH -- Obscured by, but certainly not lost in, the Pirates' 2-0 loss on Saturday night was the brilliance of Francisco Liriano, against whom the Reds managed to hit only three balls to the outfield in six innings. That even takes into account the four hits he allowed, two of them of the infield variety.
Dusty Baker noticed. Although his own pitchers, starting with Mike Leake, were tough enough to record a shutout, the Cincinnati manager was impressed by Liriano's 11-strikeout effort.
"Liriano was unbelievable," said Baker, who managed the Giants when they signed Liriano as a teenager in 2000 and saw his early development. "He was outstanding. He's back big time. I saw him as a kid with the Giants before they traded him to Minnesota.
"He was pitching backwards, like American League style. Breaking balls and changeups early in the count, and fastballs ahead in the count. A lot of times you see guys bring American League style to the National League and have a whole bunch of success, at least until they see your pattern of pitching."
Liriano has always been able to flash his enormous talents. Even last year, when he had a trying season split between the Twins and the White Sox (5.34 ERA in 34 games, and 87 walks in 156 2/3 innings), he produced back-to-back games in mid-July in which he struck out 25 and walked only four in 14 innings.
So the most encouraging aspect is that he has debuted with the Pirates with one of the most consistent five-start stretches of his career, with a 39-to-9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio for 29 innings. The 2.19 ERA is not bad, either.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.