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Liriano available for Game 5 if Pirates need him

Liriano available for Game 5 if Pirates need him

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Liriano available for Game 5 if Pirates need him

ST. LOUIS -- If Wednesday night's decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series goes long, or goes wrong for the Pirates, manager Clint Hurdle wants to be able to turn to stalwart left-hander Francisco Liriano.

Rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole is the starter and the Bucs are counting on him to match or come close to his Game 2 performance -- six innings, one run and five strikeouts in a 7-1 win over the Cardinals. But if he struggles early or if the game goes deep into extra innings, there needs to be a plan.

NLDS

That's why Hurdle made Liriano available, even though the lefty has had just two days' rest since his start in the Pirates' 5-3 Game 3 victory in Pittsburgh. Liriano threw 101 pitches in six innings -- allowing two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out five -- but didn't figure in the decision.

In making Liriano available, Hurdle also said he was saving veteran righty A.J. Burnett -- who was on regular rest, but didn't get the Game 5 start because he struggled in the NLDS opener and hasn't done well in St. Louis this year -- for Friday night's opening game of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, should the Bucs win Wednesday night.

"Liriano could be available," Hurdle said. "And A.J. ... one of the reasons we didn't pitch him here [is] because some of the challenges, but he goes through an extensive routine to get ready. If we're going to put Liriano in play -- which we've decided if we have to, we will -- we're holding A.J. back for Game 1."

If Cole accounts for himself well and the game doesn't extend much beyond the ninth, Liriano won't be needed.

Should the Pirates need multiple innings out of a reliever, they can turn to righty Jeanmar Gomez, who hasn't pitched since throwing four innings in relief of Burnett in Game 1. Gomez gave up three hits and walked two, but the two runs charged to him were unearned. Beyond that, Tuesday's day off allowed even those who worked in Monday's Game 4 -- righty Vin Mazzaro for two pitches, lefty Justin Wilson for two innings and 25 pitches and righty Mark Melancon for one inning and 16 pitches -- to rest.

"Again, we have a pretty good setup with our bullpen, so it's not like I would be looking for Frank to come in and pitch the seventh inning or the eighth inning," Hurdle said. "We're more or less looking at Frank if something would happen to Cole for some unforeseen reason early, we'd play him extended innings."

Hurdle didn't name a Game 5 starter until after Game 4, but he saw no reason to withhold the plan that Burnett, a veteran who has been a key performer the last two years since arriving in a trade with the Yankees, would start the NLCS opener against the Dodgers.

Burnett is a well-documented 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA in his three starts at Busch Stadium this season, and he gave up seven runs in two innings and didn't retire a Cardinals batter in the third inning of the 9-1 loss in Game 1. However, Burnett gave up one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings of his only start at Dodger Stadium this season, yet he ended up with the decision in a 1-0 loss, when Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw and three relievers held Pittsburgh to two hits on April 6.

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. Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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