STL@PIT: Liriano strikes out eight over seven innings

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates pitching has been coming up huge on so many yardsticks. But there is no need to go to the tape-measure, not in PNC Park, where Buccos pitchers are keeping hitters from going yard at a record pace.

The chief of yard maintenance, Francisco Liriano, was on the job Saturday night. Entering his eighth home start against the Rockies, the left-hander did not allow a home run in any of his previous starts at PNC Park, covering 44 2/3 innings.

That made Liriano the best, but hardly unique, on the Pittsburgh staff. In their first 56 home games, the Bucs had surrendered 24 homers.

Lately, the allowance has been even more miserly. Troy Tulowitzki's homer in the second inning on Friday was the visitors' first in eight games and only their fifth in the last 26 home games. At that recent rate, with 25 home games remaining, the Bucs would finish their 81-game schedule with 29 homers allowed.

The Major League record for fewest homers allowed at home in an 81-game schedule is 31, by the 1979 Houston Astros.

"We've been stingy, all right," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've kept the ball down, made pitches, worked to the big part of the ballpark. That's one of the strengths our pitchers have had."

Hughes steps in right direction for Bucs 'pen

PIT@STL: Hughes escapes bases-loaded jam unscathed

PITTSBURGH -- The Jared Hughes Project, the Pirates' most downplayed undertaking of the summer, took a significant forward step on Friday night.

In his first appearance for the Bucs in two months, Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth inning against Colorado. Hughes did allow a hit and a walk, but manager Clint Hurdle felt the outing moved him closer to resuming the important role he played as a rookie in the 2012 bullpen's success.

"We saw a guy probably just excited to be back," said Hurdle, attributing some command issues to adrenaline. "He was in a little hurry at times. But we're in a good place with him. I know he feels good just getting that one behind him."

Hughes was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation on June 3, but has admitted pitching with discomfort for a while before deciding to clue in team staff. He remained shut down for nearly a month, following the recovery program laid out for him by the training staff, which Hughes continued during a three-week rehab assignment to Indianapolis.

In 18 total appearances with the Triple-A Indians -- including on a straight option earlier in the season -- Hughes allowed one run in 21 innings, for an ERA of 0.43.

Hughes wore a wide smile after Friday's outing, saying, "I felt good. Pain-free. That's much better."

Hughes has a 4.67 ERA in 17 1/3 innings this season in three separate big league stints, and a return of the guy who in 2012 led all National League rookie relievers with a 2.85 ERA (in 66 appearances) could be huge for the Bucs.

Jason Grilli's injury and Mark Melancon's move into the closer's role has had a trickle-down effect on the setup class. Last season, Hughes appeared to be getting groomed for that job, and he can still be an important span on the new bridge to Melancon.

First number, last word

49: Consecutive games, entering Saturday, with at least one extra-base hit by the Pirates, their longest such streak of the season; the Bucs had an extra-base knock in all but three of the first 109 games.

"When he took the job I called him up and said, 'I never knew you were after the manager's job.' Because I'd offered him every job possible -- first-base coach, third-base coach, bench coach, hitting coach -- and he kept turning me down."
-- Hurdle, on how he had tried to lure one of his former players, Walt Weiss, back into the dugout while he managed the Rockies.

Worth noting

• Gerrit Cole (5-5), the Bucs' starting pitcher on Friday night, and Liriano (11-4) are the only two active pitchers in the Majors who have started 10-plus times and picked up a decision in each start. The only other starter meeting that criteria is Miami's Alex Sanabia, whose last start was on May 26.

• Jordy Mercer, whose been nursing a slightly-tight right hamstring, was back in Saturday night's lineup at short.

• The Pirates will not alter their rotation around Monday's off-day -- the team's first since the All-Star break. Rather, by staying in turn, each starter will make his next turn with an extra day of rest.