After a disappointing past two years, former All-Star Josh Beckett has looked like one of the best pitchers in the game -- especially last weekend.
Looking to build on his first no-hitter, Beckett squares off with the winless Francisco Liriano as the Los Angeles Dodgers continue a four-game home set against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.Beckett (3-1, 2.43 ERA) lost a career-high 14 games in 2012 and missed most of last year with a nerve condition, but he appears to be healthy and back to his dominant form this season. The right-hander, who ranks among the major league leaders with a .189 opponents' batting average, is on the verge of winning four consecutive starts for the first time since 2007 after no-hitting Philadelphia in Sunday's 6-0 road victory."I just wanted to help the team. You always want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," said Beckett, who started this year on the disabled list with a thumb injury. "You don't think at this point of your career that you're going to do that. I just don't feel that my stuff is good enough to do that. I'm probably as hard on myself as anybody."Beckett, who threw a career-high 128 pitches, tossed the first no-hitter in the majors this season and the Dodgers' first since Hideo Nomo in 1996."That was a lot of fun," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been throwing well all year and his breaking ball and change keep getting better."Beckett is 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA in two career starts against the Pirates, last facing them in 2004. Former Dodger Russell Martin is 2 for 12 in their matchups.Unlike Beckett, Liriano (0-5, 5.06) hasn't been able to find his form. The left-hander is issuing 4.3 walks per nine innings and has made it through six in just six of 11 starts."I'm not doing my job at all," Liriano said. "I'm not going deep into games and I'm not keeping the team in the ballgame."Liriano is looking to avoid losing a third consecutive outing after yielding four runs and a season high-tying four walks over five innings of Sunday's 5-2 defeat to Washington."I thought he had sequence of all three pitches -- in some spots," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The consistency over five innings was not there. The challenge of this game is, you're a pitch or two away from pushing through."Liriano's only appearance against the Dodgers came as a rookie in June 2006, when he yielded two runs over seven innings of a 9-2 win with Minnesota.Los Angeles (29-26) is on the brink of a season high-tying third consecutive defeat after falling 6-3 in Thursday's opener, which snapped a nine-game home winning streak against the Pirates. The Dodgers, who dropped to 5-20 when scoring fewer than four runs, lost three straight May 7-9.A winner in six of nine, Pittsburgh (24-29) improved to 2-2 on its 10-game road trip thanks to home runs from Martin and Pedro Alvarez. Gerrit Cole pitched into the seventh inning and Jason Grilli notched his sixth save."I thought we played Pirates baseball to a T," Cole said. "We passed the baton at the plate, swarmed them on defense, threw a lot of strikes and took some punches."Despite Thursday's victory, Pittsburgh has dropped 17 of its last 20 at Dodger Stadium.
Hanley Ramirez has posted a .641 slugging percentage this season in at-bats ending in an off-speed pitch, the top rate in baseball. Francisco Liriano has thrown the highest percentage of off-speed pitches in the National League (60.2 percent).