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Pirates’ Francisco Liriano outduels Cubs’ Travis Wood

Travis Wood (above) pitched six strong innings Friday but Cubs couldn’t do much against Pirates’ Francisco Liriano. | Nam Y.

Travis Wood (above) pitched six strong innings Friday, but the Cubs couldn’t do much against the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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How they scored

PIRATES SIXTH S.Marte grounded out. Mercer doubled. McCutchen flied out, Mercer to third. G.Sanchez walked on a full count. R.Martin doubled, Mercer scored, G.Sanchez to third. One run. Pirates 1, Cubs 0.

Pirates ninth Valbuena in as third baseman. R.Martin walked. Alvarez singled, R.Martin to third. Walker struck out. Snider grounded into fielder’s choice, R.Martin scored, Alvarez out. One run. Pirates 2, Cubs 0.

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Updated: July 9, 2013 6:17AM

The Cubs chose the best hitter in the amateur draft with the No. 2 overall pick Thursday after the best pitcher (Mark Appel) went first to the Houston Astros.

But after choosing San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, the Cubs selected seven pitchers — all from the college ranks — among their next nine picks. The reason is obvious, and the proof was evident for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cubs on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The Pirates have gone through two decades of losing, but pitching is now one of their best assets — and why they have a 36-25 record in the National League Central.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano is well-traveled, but he still can be one of the better pitchers in the game when he is in control of his breaking pitches, as he was in a 2-0 victory against the Cubs. It was his second scoreless performance against the Cubs this season.

‘‘When he’s into it and has his velocity, he’s a CC Sabathia type,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘He has great command of his changeup and slider. We worked the count and got in [hitters’] situations, but he’s on a roll with that offspeed stuff.’’

The Cubs didn’t have a hit until left-hander Travis Wood singled in the fifth. Wood (5-4) was outstanding on the mound, too, stranding the bases loaded in the second, then limiting the Pirates to one run in the sixth despite yielding two doubles and a walk in the inning. Wood’s 11th quality start in 12 outings lowered his ERA to 2.65.

‘‘He’s pitched like an All-Star,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘I remember three of his earned runs scored on a routine pop-up. His quality starts have been more like one and two runs [compared with the three earned runs-in-six innings threshold for the category].’’

The only other hit Liriano (4-2)
allowed in seven innings was a single by Welington Castillo in the sixth. He walked five but struck
out eight.

As good as Liriano was, his exit after seven innings opened the door to the Pirates’ other pitching strength: the bullpen. The Cubs managed one hit against Mark Melancon in the eighth and two against closer Jason Grilli in the ninth, but Grilli still struck out the side to earn his major-league-leading
23rd save.

‘‘They’ve put together a really good bullpen, even in those tough years they’ve had,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘Now they have the starting pitching to go with it.’’

The Pirates’ team ERA improved to 3.24, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the majors. Liriano, who held the Cubs scoreless for seven innings May 22 in Pittsburgh, has a stingy 1.75 ERA. In the bullpen, Melancon has a 1.15 ERA, and Grilli is at 0.98.

‘‘That’s a great ballclub from top to bottom,’’ Wood said. ‘‘Their pitching staff is doing it now, and you can’t take anything away from them.’’

The Cubs’ starting staff has shown it has quality, too, but the feeling is that some of its parts might be dealt before the trade deadline July 31.

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