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Pitching issues continue as Tigers fall back to .500 after 8-4 loss to Pirates

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DETROIT — is doing everything he can to keep the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central race.

If he doesn't get more help, it isn't going to matter.

Martinez hit a 3-run homer in the eighth inning Thursday, his 21st of the season and 12th in 20 games, but it wasn't enough to avoid the Pittsburgh Pirates finishing a three-game sweep with an 8-4 victory.

The Tigers are now back to .500 (39-39) for the season, having lost five of seven.

"I'm definitely frustrated," Martinez said. "The biggest thing I took out of last year was how much fun it was in September, playing with the division coming right down to the wire. That was the most fun I've ever had in baseball.

"If we don't start getting some wins, that last month is going to be a drag."

Since June 16, the Tigers are 5-9 despite averaging 4.9 runs a game, thanks to a 5.97 ERA.

"We need to pitch better — there's no question," Tigers manager said. "The backbone of a good baseball team is basically pitching, pitching and defense, and our defense has done a nice job. We need to pitch better."

The Tigers couldn't get any offense going against one of their favorite pitchers to face — Francisco Lirano. Since pitching eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win for Minnesota on April 27, 2010, Liriano had faced the Tigers 14 times — 11 as a starter — and gone 1-9.

Thursday, though, he shut them down for seven innings, not allowing a Tiger to get past second base.

"I just had to go out there and forget everything that has happened with the Tigers," he said. "In the past, I've tried to make perfect pitches to those guys, and I have ended up leaving the ball in the middle of the plate. Today, I just executed."

The Pirates have won five of six, including victories in each of Liriano's starts during the stretch.

"Frank just pitched a major-league game," Pittsburgh manager said. "That's a great offense, and he did an excellent job of keeping them from running the bases."

had his second straight four-hit game for Pittsburgh and drove in three runs. The Pirates outscored the Tigers 22-11 in the series.

"We played good, tough baseball," said Pirates manager , a Michigan native who grew up as a Tigers fan. "We were tough on the mound, tough in the field and we showed some backbone at the plate."

(1-2) took the loss, giving up two runs on three hits and five walks in four-plus innings.

Ausmus was ejected in the fifth inning by home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook for arguing a called third strike on .

"The pitch to J.D. was just the last straw," Ausmus said. "He threw me out before I could even get out the dugout."

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead in the fourth on 's fourth homer of the season, and after Ryan walked the first two batters of the fifth, Ausmus brought in . After a bunt, hit a sacrifice fly to deep right-center, but was stranded at third.

Walker made it 3-0 in the sixth with an RBI single, but came in to keep another Pirates inning to just one run.

Hardy gave up an RBI single to in the seventh — the fourth straight inning where Pittsburgh scored exactly one run. , who has been struggling as Detroit's set-up man, ended the streak with a scoreless eighth.

Martinez's homer made it 4=3, but Pittsburgh expanded the lead in the ninth off . singled, stole second standing up and scored on McCutchen's 420-foot double. Walker added a two-run double and added an RBI groundout.

's RBI double in the bottom of the ninth made it 8-4 before ended it by getting to ground out to first for his 25th save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: OF (shoulder) had a day off Wednesday in his rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, but is expected to play Thursday night in Toledo.

Tigers: C (knee) is scheduled to DH Thursday against Indianapolis, and could rejoin the Tigers as soon as Friday. Avila has been out since May 8.

UP NEXT

Pirates: Pittsburgh starts a three-game home series with Cleveland on Friday, with (6-1, 4.28) facing (6-5, 3.96) in the opener.

Tigers: Detroit remains at home for a weekend series against Toronto. (6-7, 4.63) is schedule to pitch Friday night against Drew Hutchinson (8-1, 4.99).

PHOTO: Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus argues a call with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, July 2, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus argues a call with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, July 2, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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PHOTO: Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus argues a call with home plate umpire Sam Holbrook during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Thursday, July 2, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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