PITTSBURGH (AP) Francisco Liriano doesn't believe he's lost his stuff so much as he's misplaced it. The search to find it over the last few weeks sent the veteran Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher to the bullpen for lengthy sessions with pitching coach Ray Searage.
Judging by the way he overpowered the Milwaukee Brewers for two occasionally brilliant hours on Thursday night, Liriano appears to be on the right path.
His fastball dipping and darting like a bug trying to avoid a fly swatter, Liriano struck out a season-high 13 without issuing a walk over 6 2/3 innings as the Pirates edged the Brewers 5-3.
''Everything was around the plate, not way down and way up,'' Liriano said.
Something that's been an issue most of the season. Liriano entered the game having allowed a major-league high 62 base on balls. The Brewers didn't work a free pass once as Liriano (6-9) generated some serious momentum in his bid to bounce back from a forgettable first half.
''The slider was electric, the changeup was disappearing,'' Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ''No walks (and) 13 punchouts. Really good stuff. Really good composure. Very good tempo.''
Following three effective seasons at the top of the Pittsburgh rotation, 2016 has been a challenge for the 32-year-old. Liriano went more than six weeks without a victory, a stretch that ended with a win in Oakland on July 3. He backed it up with better command in a loss to Washington last week, providing a glimpse that he was starting to figure things out.
''I thought he had great stuff tonight, he really did,'' Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said of Liriano. ''That's the best we've seen him in a while, for sure.''
Liriano's only mistake through the first six innings came on Jonathan Villar's solo home run into the Milwaukee bullpen in the third. Liriano struck out the side in the sixth but was removed in the seventh following an RBI double by Perez and an RBI groundout by Scooter Gennett.
Mark Melancon bounced back from consecutive blown saves to retire the side in order in the ninth for his 28th save.
IN A PINCH
Matt Joyce smacked a three-run homer in the first inning off Matt Garza (1-4) and later added an RBI groundout. Not bad for a player who didn't know he was playing until outfielder Starling Marte came down with flu-like symptoms a half-hour before the first pitch.
''He's kind of like a fireman, he's ready to go,'' Hurdle said.
Joyce did his best to cram for Garza - a former teammate when both played in Tampa Bay - but felt a bit rushed heading into the on-deck circle with two on and one out in the first. He took a couple of extra deep breaths to calm down and smacked a pitch from Garza into the seats in right field to put the Pirates up 3-0.
''When they ring the bell, you've got to go,'' Joyce said.
Gregory Polanco finished with two hits for the Pirates. Andrew McCutchen went 2 for 3 to snap out of a 1-for-16 funk.
Villar hit his seventh home run of the season. Hernan Perez added two hits for Milwaukee, which fell to 17-31 away from Miller Park, the second-worst road mark in the National League. Garza dropped his fourth straight decision, allowing five runs, four earned, in five innings with two walks and three strikeouts.
''I can go deep, I like to keep pitching,'' Garza said. ''You put your team in a hole and you can't do that. You just keep going and keep believing. It's there. I've seen it. I saw it and felt it today. It's a good step. I know what I've got to do''.
Brewers: Pitching prospect Adrian Houser underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm Thursday and will miss at least the next 12 months. The 23-year-old appeared in two games last September for the Brewers and was 3-7 with a 5.25 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Biloxi this season.
Pirates: Reliever Ryan Vogelsong voluntarily removed himself from a rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis after four innings of work on Wednesday night due to neck tightness. Vogelsong, who turns 39 on Friday, is recovering from facial fractures after getting hit by a pitch against Colorado on May 23.
Brewers: Open a 10-game homestand on Friday with a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs. Jimmy Nelson (6-7, 3.39 ERA) is coming off his first win in over a month after tossing seven shutout innings against Cincinnati last Saturday.
Pirates: Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.11 ERA) will make his second start since returning from a stint on the DL with a right triceps strain. He will face Philadelphia on Friday. Cole allowed five runs in four innings in a loss to Washington last Saturday.