Pirates name Liriano Opening Day starter

Veteran lefty will start Bucs' season for third straight year as club plays it safe with Cole's progression

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Rather than rush Gerrit Cole through his Spring Training progression, the Pirates named left-hander Francisco Liriano their Opening Day starter on Friday.

Manager Clint Hurdle made the announcement, which came as somewhat of a surprise considering Cole became Pittsburgh's ace last season and started in the win-or-go-home National League Wild Card Game against the Cubs.

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Having been set back by right rib inflammation early on in camp, Cole is scheduled to make his first start of the spring on Sunday. According to the schedule the Pirates have set up for Cole, the 25-year-old right-hander wouldn't get a chance to throw six innings or 100 pitches until April 3, which is Opening Day.

Liriano to start on Opening Day

"It wouldn't be fair to him to try to push that deadline date on him," Hurdle said. "We've never started a pitcher at the Major Leagues since I've been here that hasn't gone six innings and 100 pitches at some time in Spring Training."

Instead, the Pirates will hand the ball to the same pitcher who's started on Opening Day each of the last two years when they open their season against the Cardinals.

Liriano, 32, has delivered on his top-of-the-rotation potential with the Pirates, putting together a 35-25 record and 3.26 ERA since 2013. Last year, he became the first Pirates pitcher to start on consecutive Opening Days since Oliver Perez did so in 2005-06.

In a little more than three weeks, Liriano will become the first Bucs pitcher since Doug Drabek (1990-92) to make three straight Opening Day starts.

Cole, meanwhile, will have to wait until 2017 for his first Opening Day nod.

"Gerrit understands completely. He was all-in on it," Hurdle said. "It goes back to making sure that you take care of what you want most first before what you might want right now in the moment. We're good where we are."

It's unclear if Cole will sit out of the first turn through the Pirates' rotation as he continues to increase his workload. Pittsburgh has two scheduled off-days during the first week of the regular season (April 4 and April 7), so they won't technically need to open the season with five starters.

"He's in a good spot, a real good spot," Hurdle said of Cole. "We'll have more information as he pitches more and we'll see where it takes us."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.