Lirano ready to take first turn with Pirates
Left-hander scheduled to make his season debut Saturday against Mets
NEW YORK - The Pirates rotation becomes decidedly more left-handed on Saturday afternoon. As a result, other National League teams and the Bucs' Interleague opponents are on alert.
Francisco Liriano, who makes his living doing what Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and John Smiley did for the Pirates decades ago, is scheduled to make his 2013 debut in a 1:10 p.m. ET engagement with the Mets.
And so long as the Pirates' pitching personnel remains as it will be once Liriano starts, the rotation will be as left-handed as any in the big leagues.
Liriano signed a reworked contract with the Pirates in early February, some seven weeks after he had agreed to terms with the club. But that first agreement never became official before he sustained a fracture in his right forearm in a household accident. He's made five rehab starts, including one on Sunday in which he threw 99 pitches.
Liriano's presence, and that of Wandy Rodriguez and Jeff Locke, gives the Pirates three lefty starters. Pittsburgh began the season with three -- Rodriguez, Locke and Jonathan Sanchez -- but Sanchez was released by the club after four unremarkable starts. Still, through Thursday, only the Dodgers (19) and Phillies (18) had more games started by left-handed pitchers than the Pirates (17). The Blue Jays also had 17.
If Liriano pitches as the Pirates anticipate, their rotation will remain 60 percent left-handed, even when right-hander James McDonald returns from the disabled list. For now, Jeanmar Gomez is the scheduled starter against the Mets on Sunday. He probably returns to the bullpen once McDonald no longer feels the discomfort in his right shoulder.
Liriano, 29, pitched with the Twins, his original big league team, and the White Sox, producing a 6-12 record and 5.34 ERA in 34 games -- 28 starts -- and 156 2/3 innings last year. His work brought his career record to 53-54. But his age and his resume appealed to the Pirates when they studied his circumstances.
"We like that he comes from the American League, and we like left-handed pitching in our ballpark," manager Clint Hurdle said on Friday.
The Pirates also saw Liriano as a potential "bounce-back" pitcher and measured him against other pitchers at comparable points in their career. Hurdle also noted: "The work we did show a lot of similarities [between Liriano] with A.J. [Burnett.]" And the Pirates are quite pleased with what Burnett has provided in his one season-plus in Pittsburgh.
But it's Liriano's southpaw prowess that appeals most to the Bucs. Their NL Central opponents haven't fared well against left-handed pitching. The Cubs have a 3-6 record in games in which the opposing starter was left-handed. The Brewers have lost seven of 11 such games. The Reds' and Cardinals' respective records in such games are 7-6 and 4-3. Overall in the big leagues, teams have produced a 79-86 record when opposed by left-handed starters.
Liriano threw 21 2/3 innings in his rehab work. Hurdle noted the 98 pitches Liriano threw in five innings on Sunday and said no arbitrary pitch count will be in effect on Saturday. The Pirates don't measure a pitcher's workload exclusively by the number of pitches thrown.
Grilli excited for father's number ceremony
NEW YORK -- Closer Jason Grilli was hoping for a relatively short game at Citi Field on Friday night, a Pirates' victory, of course, and perhaps one that requires his final touch. But nonetheless a brief game if possible.
Grilli was facing a busy period -- a game versus the Mets, a postgame trip to his father's home in Merrick, N.Y., an early Saturday morning ceremony saluting his father, former Tigers and Blue Jays pitcher Steve Grilli, and a trip back to Citi Field for a 1:10 p.m. ET game.
Whatever rushing required of the younger Grilli will be gladly accepted. He also was required to close the Pirates' 7-3 victory on Friday night. He did, retiring one batter for his 14th save. The game ended early enough -- 10:19 p.m.
"It'll great to be part of the accolades he receives," Jason Grilli said prior to Friday's game against the Mets. "Baseball is such a bond. I'm happy I can be there."
Calhoun High School is set to retire the uniform number Steve Grilli wore when he pitched there. His son, No. 39 with the Pirates, was unsure of what number that was. The father wore No. 49 in his three seasons with the Tigers and 45 in his one season with the Blue Jays.
"The number doesn't matter as much as what the school is doing. It's great that he's being recognized," Jason Grilli said. "The school has a game after the [8:30 a.m.] ceremonies. I won't see that. But I'll see my dad get something he deserves."
Steve Grilli, 64, produced a 4-3 record and 4.51 ERA in 70 big league appearances from 1975-77 with the Tigers and in 1979 with the Blue Jays.
Morton reports zero problems after session
NEW YORK -- Rehabbing Pirates starter Charlie Morton threw a bullpen session as scheduled on Friday and emerged with no pain or problems in his right shoulder.
Morton, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in June, had experienced tightness in his shoulder after a rehab start.
The next test of the elbow is undetermined, but the Pirates anticipate no problem with Morton's elbow.
Pirates extend 'How many Ks' promotion
NEW YORK -- The Pirates extended their "How Many Ks" promotion through Saturday in honor of the season debut of pitcher Francisco Liriano. The fan-value promotion will allow fans an opportunity to save one dollar for every total strikeout registered on Thursday, Friday and now Saturday at Citi Field, as the Pirates continue their series against the Mets.
For every strikeout the Pirates' pitching staff records during the three games, fans will receive one dollar off the purchase price of lower outfield box and outfield box seats for a game during the week of May 13-17, when the Pirates host the Brewers for a four-game series and the Astros on Friday.
The regular advance purchase price for lower outfield box seats is $32, and outfield box seats are $28. So if the Pirates strike out a total of 15 batters during the three games against the Mets, individual tickets will be made available for $17 per game in the lower outfield box section and $13 in the outfield box section for those five games.
Tickets for the week of the promotion will be made available for purchase 30 minutes following the conclusion of today's game against the Mets -- exclusively at pirates.com/howmanyks.
Tickets also will be available for purchase today at 8:30 a.m. ET at the PNC Park box office or by calling 1-877-893-2827. The promotion will run as long as supplies last.
• Pirates second baseman Neil Walker was scheduled to play in his second rehab game with Double-A Altoona on Friday, but the game was rained out. The plan was to have Walker play three rehab games and join the Pirates on Sunday for the final game of the four-game series at Citi Field. Pittsburgh was uncertain how the rainout would affect the plan.
• Mike McKenry made his ninth start as understudy for catcher Russell Martin on Friday night. Martin experienced a recurrence of neck stiffness that prevented him from playing on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Marty Noble is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.