DETROIT — After a terrific start to the season, Francisco Liriano finally faltered against one of baseball’s top lineups.
It took a few innings, but the Detroit Tigers eventually broke through against Liriano, scoring three runs in the fifth en route to a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday. The Pirates rallied late in the game but fell a run short against the Detroit bullpen.
“That’s a great offense, and I’ve pitched against them a lot of times, so they know what I’ve got and I know what they can do,” Liriano said. “I know that I’ve got to hit my spots and make good pitches if I don’t want to get beaten up.”
Justin Verlander struck out 13 in seven innings, and Jhonny Peralta had four hits for the Tigers.
Liriano (3-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings.
Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker tripled in the first and scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen. Liriano was cruising along until Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Peralta opened the Detroit fourth with consecutive singles to tie it at 1.
Liriano allowed no more than a run in each of his first three starts — the Pirates had to wait for him to return after he broke his right (non-throwing) arm in a freak accident on Christmas Day.
Martinez came to the plate with two on and two out in the fifth. His double down the line bounced weirdly off the short fence in foul territory, and both runners came in to score for a 3-1 lead. Martinez then scored on Peralta’s double.
Verlander (6-4) hadn’t pitched more than five innings in any of his previous three starts, struggling at times with his location. But he was sharp for the most part against Pittsburgh, allowing three runs and seven hits with two walks.
Travis Snider hit an RBI triple in the seventh and Walker followed with a double to make it 4-3, but McCutchen struck out swinging on Verlander’s final pitch.
The Tigers added two runs in the seventh against Jose Contreras, who retired only one batter while allowing a hit and four walks.
“We battled back against the best pitcher in the game, and then we battled back against one of the best eighth-inning men in the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I just didn’t plan for Contreras going out there and walking four guys. We need him to pitch that inning — we can’t use the same guys every day — and he couldn’t do it. That really hurt us.”
Pittsburgh third baseman Brandon Inge, who played for the Tigers for more than a decade, was a late addition to the starting lineup. Outfielder Starling Marte was removed shortly before the game because of migraine-like symptoms, and the ensuing shuffling of the lineup gave Inge his first chance to play at Comerica Park as a member of the visiting team.
Inge drew plenty of cheers — along with some boos — when he came to bat for the first time. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
The Pirates had pulled within one in the eighth when Inge came to the plate, but pinch-runner Josh Harrison was picked off second, and Inge struck out looking against Benoit.
“We’re trying to make something happen,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “If you follow our team, you know that our average with runners in scoring position isn’t great, so we tried to do something. You get the guy running, and maybe you open up a lane for a base hit, or you get a run on an infield hit. We were trying to push the envelope, and it didn’t work out.”
Jose Valverde finished for his sixth save in seven chances, striking out McCutchen with a runner on first to end it.
It was Peralta’s first four-hit game since June 4, 2010, when he was playing for Cleveland. The Detroit shortstop is now hitting .341 — 102 points higher than where he finished 2012.
“He’s swinging a magic wand right now,” Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. “He can poke the bat out and get a hit. He can swing hard and get a hit. It’s a lot of fun to play the game like that.”
NOTES: Snider had three hits. ... Verlander is 20-2 against the NL. ... Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera struck out three times and had his hitting streak snapped at 12 games. ... It started raining around the end of the fifth, but there were no delays. ... Pittsburgh’s Jeanmar Gomez (2-0) faces Detroit’s Rick Porcello (2-2) tonight.