8/10/2013 9:38 P.M. ET
Liriano's early exit lets 'pen display mettle
By Ian McCue / MLB.com
DENVER -- Friday night's 10-1 loss to the Rockies came with a hidden highlight: another stellar performance from the Pirates' bullpen.
After starter Francisco Liriano limped through 2 1/3 innings, allowing 12 hits and 10 runs in his brief outing, relievers Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes and position player Josh Harrison held the Rockies to four hits for the rest of the game. Pittsburgh's bullpen has not allowed a run in four games (16 innings), Friday night indicative of what makes the "Shark Tank" among the best in baseball.
"This bullpen this whole year has been incredibly competitive," Hughes said. "Just attacking the strike zone and forcing contact, I feel like that's what we're good at. And yeah, yesterday was a good example of that. Just really going out there and getting ahead in the count and minimizing pitches so we could go the rest of the game."
Even position player Harrison, pitching for the first time since he was about 14, managed to get the Rockies' final out after Mazzaro and Hughes each threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
But just as important as the arms who make up a bullpen with the second-lowest ERA in the National League (2.82) is the man calling the pitches: catcher Russell Martin.
"When we come in the game, Russ knows what we've got; he knows what to call, and I feel like that's really helped us stay consistent," Hughes said. "He's just an extremely good guy to have behind the plate."
In the eyes of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, making the "Shark Tank" even more valuable to his club is their longevity. Hurdle said he could recall at least three games this year where the starter departed during the first inning or after the first was complete.
"Three times we were challenged dramatically; we won two of the three games," Hurdle said. "So for those guys, and it's been different guys -- [Bryan] Morris has done it, Mazarro's been involved, [Justin] Wilson was the guy one time. ... They take pride in what they do, and as soon as they saw Liriano struggling, they were ready. They were ready to post up and go."
Marte leaves game with injury; Alvarez shaken
DENVER -- Pirates left fielder Starling Marte walked through the visitor's clubhouse at Coors Field on Saturday night with a badly bruised left hand but good news to share.
Marte, struck by a 91-mph fastball on his left hand in the top of the seventh, confirmed that X-rays were negative and revealed nothing more than a contusion, and he is listed as day-to-day. He said the ball did not jam between his hand and the bat, making full contact with his hand.
Marte crumpled to the ground in pain immediately after the pitch from reliever Josh Outman pegged him. Alex Presley came in as a pinch-runner after Marte left the game.
The injury comes just as Marte's bat was heating up. He entered Saturday's game with a hit in six consecutive at-bats but was 0-for-2 with a walk and the hit by pitch before he left the game.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez also appeared to injure his left hand in the sixth inning. Alvarez looked to be in pain after he attempted to tag out Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler as Fowler tried to slide into third base in the bottom of the sixth inning.
"He caught a spike on his index finger on his glove hand," manager Clint Hurdle said. "But he was able to stay in the game, and he took swings and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."
Fowler was trying to make it from first to third on a Corey Dickerson single and was tagged well ahead of the base. But Fowler's spikes pushed the ball out of Alvarez's glove and toward the Pirates' dugout, allowing Fowler to score. The play was ruled an error on Alvarez.
However, Alvarez remained in the game and wore a light wrap on his left index finger after the game.
Hurdle ejected in seventh vs. Rockies
DENVER -- After he had expressed his intense displeasure with a call and earned an ejection from the game, Clint Hurdle returned to the clubhouse only to realize he was wrong.
Second-base umpire Adrian Johnson tossed Hurdle in the top of the seventh inning of the Pirates' 6-4 loss at Coors Field on Saturday night after Hurdle argued that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's foot was not touching second base when he turned a 1-6-3 double plat.
But when he had a chance to watch the replay, he acknowledged that Johnson made the correct call.
"I wouldn't have gone out there if I didn't think he was safe," Hurdle said. "Then after I got in, Adrian made a good call; he was on the bag.
"I trust my eyes, and my eyes were wrong. I went out there, and I really felt confident he was off the bag."
After the Rockies turned the double play, Hurdle immediately hustled out of the dugout and began arguing with Johnson, earning the ejection soon after.
It was Hurdle's fifth ejection this year, his first since July 25, when he was tossed in a 9-7 loss to the Nationals in Washington.
Barring soreness, Wandy's bullpen goes well
DENVER -- Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez cleared a major hurdle in his rehab process Saturday, throwing 25 fastballs and changeups in the bullpen at Coors Field without issue.
Though Rodriguez said he could not gauge his progression until seeing how he felt when he woke up Sunday morning, he planned to throw another bullpen Wednesday in St. Louis and a simulated game Friday or Saturday at PNC Park.
Rodriguez, who is recovering from a left forearm injury sustained nine weeks ago, said he was slightly hesitant to step back on the mound and really test his arm.
"Yeah, a little bit [of nerves]," Rodriguez said. "Scared of my arm because I don't want to feel the pain again. Every time I throw I want [my arm] to feel comfortable, and I feel good."
Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed Rodriguez's schedule but was careful to note that the current plan would apply only if the left-hander progressed as hoped.
"It won't be finalized until we know how he feels tomorrow from throwing today," Hurdle said. "That's what we kind of laid out as the plan moving forward. We'd like to get him back out on that date if all goes well."
Bucs take step back in early offense vs. Rox
DENVER -- Pittsburgh had plenty of opportunities to strike early Friday night, but it all resulted in just a single run in a 10-1 loss to Colorado.
The Pirates opened with four straight singles, but Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa picked off Starling Marte as he attempted to steal second, allowing De La Rosa to survive the first unscathed. The Pirates would finish with 10 hits -- all singles -- ending at 54 a streak of games with an extra-base hit, fitting for a game defined by a lack of timely hitting.
While the Pirates thrived as the comeback kids on their last homestand, manager Clint Hurdle has seen his offense grow more productive in the opening innings.
"We've made some advancements," Hurdle said. "We've had some incremental advances from the second half, from the number of walks to the better at-bats, situational hitting, sac flies, pitch counts."
The 59 runs the Bucs have posted in the second are actually the most of any inning, and the numbers are very similar between the first and second half of games -- 191 runs in the first four innings to 243 in the final five innings.
But Hurdle is still hoping for greater urgency at the beginning of games.
"Everybody behind you has got an opportunity to add significant value from the offensive vein in the next six weeks," Hurdle said. "And it comes down to discipline, commitment, conviction, all those things we continue to talk about. As a group, it's gotten more cohesive."
Hurdle will take Marte's skids with his streaks
DENVER -- No moment could better illustrate what makes Starling Marte an unconventional leadoff hitter than the first at-bat of his Major League career.
Just over a year ago, on July 26, 2012, Marte homered on the first pitch he saw from a big league pitcher. He is an aggressive batter who already has 116 strikeouts this year, very high for a hitter at the top of the order.
And with that type of aggression comes an inevitably streaky bat, shown in a July slump in which Marte drove in only four runs and homered twice. But his bat has heated up quickly in August, as Marte entered Saturday's game with a hit in six straight at-bats, including the second four-hit game of his career Saturday night.
"It's a wild-card leadoff guy with a slashing stroke, but he's gotten better during the season through the experience, through the reps," Hurdle said. "Will he still chase from time to time? Yes, but it's not as dynamic or dramatic as it was last year, even through Spring Training."
And Hurdle is willing to accept the good with the bad, his career-high 33 strikeouts last month outweighed by his ability to inject life into the lineup in the skipper's eyes.
"He's found the ability to spark innings, to stretch innings, continue innings and drive in runs because it's not just that cookie-cutter leadoff hitter," Hurdle said. "It's a guy up there that's got a bat that can play."
• Hurdle said he would reveal the Pirates' full rotation for the Cardinals series Saturday night. He did share that right-hander Charlie Morton would start Game 1 in St. Louis on Tuesday.
• Hurdle was happy not only to help his bullpen but also to create a unique moment Friday night when he put infielder Harrison in to pitch for the final out in the bottom of the eighth. Harrison was the first Pirates position player to take the mound since 2004.
"Josh has got a lifetime memory now," Hurdle said. "Whether he wanted it, whether I wanted it or not, he threw in the big leagues, and he got a hitter out in the big leagues."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.