PITTSBURGH -- Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano still hasn't thrown enough innings to qualify as a statistical league leader, but official or not, he's been one of baseball's best pitchers this season and showed it again on Saturday night.
Liriano's seven shutout innings, backed by some timely hitting, lifted the Pirates to a 5-2 win over the Rockies at PNC Park. He lowered his ERA to 2.02, which would rank second in the National League, and improved to 12-4 in 16 starts with his third straight victory.
"Things have been going the way I wanted to," said Liriano, who missed the first month of the season with a broken arm. "So far so good for me. Hopefully, we can continue playing the way we are and everything goes the way we want it to."
Pittsburgh had lost its first two games this month after taking four straight from St. Louis earlier this week, and upped its lead in the NL Central to 1 1/2 games with this victory and the Reds' 8-3 win over the second-place Cardinals on Saturday.
Liriano, who has been everything the Bucs could have hoped and more, pulled out the stops to get his club back in the win column. He allowed two hits and five walks, matching a season high, with six strikeouts. He did throw first-pitch balls to eight of the first 13 batters he faced and got his pitch count up to 49 after three innings. Liriano put two on with one out in both the first and third innings, but came out unscathed.
"His big thing was putting his foot down in first and third," manager Clint Hurdle said. "As we were saying before the game, he was able to make some good hitters take some funny swings."
"He's one of those guys, like the good ones are," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "If you don't get him early, it makes it tough. He was real good. His command was real good with offspeed stuff, and his slider, he used well."
The Pirates got most of the production they needed to back Liriano from the top four hitters in their lineup; Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez. They went a combined 7-for-14 with three runs scored, three RBIs and three stolen bases. Jose Tabata helped the Bucs' cause by going 3-for-4 -- a double shy of the cycle.
The Pirates manufactured a run in innings three through seven. Tabata scored on a suicide squeeze executed perfectly by Josh Harrison in the sixth before Sanchez's single in the seventh plated McCutchen, who stole second.
Sanchez drove in Marte with a chopper up the middle in the fifth, while Tabata's first home run since May 11 and third of the season put the Pirates up 2-0 in the fourth.
"I get chances to get RBIs and help the team out because of what they can do on the basepaths," Sanchez said of Marte and McCutchen. "It continues pressure and that's what we always try to do is put pressure on the other team."
The Pirates jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third when Marte singled, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. McCutchen then doubled off the Clemente Wall.
"The overall offense showing up in good fashion," Hurdle said. "Marte scoring some runs. Mercer with some good at-bats. The top three showed up very, very well tonight."
The Rockies' bullpen got a much needed break Friday night because of Jhoulys Chacin's eight brilliant innings, but Jorge De La Rosa wasn't as fortunate on Saturday. He was chased after four-plus innings after his pitch count climbed to 88. The lefty allowed six hits, three runs and two walks with three strikeouts.
Colorado got two back in the eighth when Troy Tulowitzki's single scored Corey Dickerson. Tony Watson gave up three singles and only faced four batters before he was pulled in favor of Bryan Morris. Michael Cuddyer's infield single then plated Dexter Fowler, but Morris limited the damage by dialing up a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Wilin Rosario.
Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save. Harrison, playing third base, jumped to glove a hard line drive for the final out, capping a fine night defensively. He turned all seven playable balls hit his way into outs, ranging to his right and coming up with strong throws on several occasions to help back Liriano.
"It's something that I work on every day during [batting practice] and it's something I take pride in," said Harrison, who has played second, third, shortstop and the outfield this season. "Being able to go to all different positions, you have to get that work in to make sure you feel comfortable at all of them."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.