NEW YORK — Francisco Liriano finally got to pitch for Pittsburgh and, just like that, the Pirates looked like a much better team.
Liriano struck out nine in his Pittsburgh debut, and the Pirates teed off on New York’s pitching for an 11-2 win over the Mets on Saturday.
“He’s pitched before and he’s been good,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Good to have him in the fold now — for me it’s three left-handers in the rotation. I like that a lot, especially in the division we’re in, the way we match up against the teams.”
Jordy Mercer homered twice and Jose Tabata had four hits, including a two-run shot for the Pirates.
The Mets have struggled to score at home, but the start by Jonathon Niese (2-4) would have put any team in a hole. He tied a career high by allowing eight runs, and walked more batters than he struck out for the fourth time in eight starts this season.
Liriano (1-0), returning from a broken non-throwing arm, allowed one run in 5 1-3 innings and 90 pitches. He gave up six hits and two walks.
“Today went good. Really good location and just using a lot today,” Liriano said. “It was a little weird, nervous. But that went away and it just feels good to get the first one out of the way.”
After a late-spring injury to Jeff Karstens and the release of Jonathan Sanchez, the Pirates needed the help in their rotation. Now they can line up Liriano after fellow lefties Jeff Locke and Wandy Rodriguez.
“You can probably count the teams on one hand that have really good offensive splits more so against left-handed pitchers than against right-handed pitching,” Hurdle said.
The Pirates jumped on Niese early, and finally drove him out of the game during a big fifth inning.
Mercer hit a solo shot after third baseman David Wright made a nifty barehanded play to throw out Starling Marte, and Tabata hit an RBI double off the base of the wall in center field.
Michael McKenry followed with a two-run single off reliever Scott Atchison, and Clint Barmes followed with an RBI single before Liriano fouled out to end the inning.
Liriano agreed to a contract with Pittsburgh in the offseason, but broke his right arm on Dec. 25, the day before he was supposed to fly to Pittsburgh and sign a $12.75 million, two-year contract. Liriano, who said he was injured when he slapped a door in his house, signed a revised offer and prepared for a delayed start to the season.
And he delivered.
He set the first seven batters down in order, and the Mets didn’t get anyone to third base until the sixth inning, when Justin Turner singled with Wright on first and one out. Marlon Byrd hit a tough dribbler down the third base line that Brandon Inge charged, but he mishandled the transfer to his throwing hand on a play that was ruled a single.
The Mets put two runners on in the fourth inning after Byrd’s two-out single. But Liriano struck out Andrew Brown.
Barmes hit an RBI single in the second inning, and Tabata hit a two-run homer in the third, after McCutchen’s RBI single.
The game was delayed 47 minutes by rain in the middle of the ninth. When play resumed, Brown led off with a solo home run off left-hander Tony Watson. The ball went deep to left, where both of Mercer’s home runs landed.
“For our guys to swing the bats today the way they did in a big ballpark, I think that was a feel-good for the offensive side of our game,” Hurdle said.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pirates reliever Bryan Morris hit pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin with his first pitch. The night before, Valdespin hit a long home run and took plenty of time admiring its trajectory.
When he returned to the dugout after the inning, he threw his helmet in the corner and tore off his batting gloves while no one acknowledged him. Over on the Pittsburgh side, Morris received fist bumps from manager Clint Hurdle and many of his teammates.
Through Mets team spokesman Jay Horwitz, Valdespin said the issue was closed and that he wasn’t going to talk about it.
Niese gave up eight hits and three walks with a strikeout before leaving with one out in the fifth. He also allowed eight runs July 27 at Arizona last season.
NOTES: The Pirates have homered in 12 of their last 13 games and 19 of 22. ... New York has scored 31 runs in its last 12 home games. The 11 they allowed were a season worst at home. ... Pittsburgh right-hander Jeanmar Gomez (2-0) is expected to make his third start of the season in the finale of the four-game series today. He’ll face Mets rookie RHP Matt Harvey (4-0). ... Tabata singled in the seventh for the third four-hit game of his career.