Liriano searching for answers amid rough stretch

Liriano searching for answers amid rough stretch

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates haven't seen this version of Francisco Liriano, at least not for this long. The Liriano who pitched for Pittsburgh the last three years was remarkably consistent, reliable and, above all, effective.

That hasn't been the case for Liriano lately. He struggled through another short start in Monday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers at PNC Park, charged with five runs (four earned) while walking five in 4 1/3 innings. His ERA climbed to 5.33, unbefitting someone who posted a 3.26 ERA from 2013-15.

This version of Liriano, with a 1-7 record and 6.61 ERA over his last eight starts, looks more like the one the Pirates helped revive after two rocky seasons in Minnesota and Chicago. How can the Pirates get Liriano back on track again? With ace Gerrit Cole sidelined by a right triceps strain, they could use their Opening Day starter in top form.

"Things aren't working the way he wants or we want when he's out on the mound," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Nothing bodes confidence for a player like success, so we've got to find some more answers to help him find success."

To that end, Liriano said he's been watching video and working tirelessly between starts with pitching coach Ray Searage.

"I've been here before," Liriano said. "I've just got to stay positive and keep working."

In the clubhouse, the Pirates continue to praise Liriano's work and reinforce their belief that the lefty's season will eventually turn around.

"As soon as it clicks, it's going to be so much fun. We all know he's close," reliever Jared Hughes said. "We all believe in Frankie. We know he's the guy we want on the mound."

The Pirates haven't won with Liriano starting since May 24. Since then, he's completed six innings in two of his six starts while allowing at least four runs and walking at least three batters in all of them.

"We're still dealing with the same issue," Hurdle said. "The overall command, the lack of consistency."

What's the difference between this year and the last three?

"I'm not getting as many swings [and misses] as I used to get, like last year," Liriano said. "I need to execute more and keep working in my bullpens, try to get better with my location and mechanics."

Spotted a four-run lead in the first inning, Liriano kept the Dodgers in check, allowing one run through four innings. Four straight hitters reached with one out in the fifth -- two on walks -- and Liriano left the game after Yasiel Puig's RBI single to right field.

Hughes then gave up two singles, one of them on an unlucky infield single. But the damage was done before that, when another potentially promising start got away from Liriano.

"You don't get 10 years in the big leagues by piddling around as a starting pitcher," catcher Erik Kratz said. "He's got great stuff and an incredible heart to want to attack guys and do well for his team.

"It just hasn't happened. It's going to be great when it does."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.