Francisco Liriano pitches a gem, blanks Cardinals over eight innings

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Francisco Liriano was down on his luck when the Pirates signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal in February. He was coming off a year in which he posted a combined 5.34 ERA with the Twins and White Sox, the third time in four seasons he had posted an ERA in the fives.

Liriano made his season debut with the Pirates on May 11 and has looked like the ace many envisioned him becoming back in 2006 when he finished third in AL Rookie of the Year balloting. That continued tonight in an important game against the division rival Cardinals, entering the night with a tenuous one-game lead over the second-place Pirates. First baseman Garrett Jones gave his pitcher a ton of support, going 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBI, but just his two-run double in the first inning would have sufficed as Liriano was dominant from the outset.

Liriano tossed eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six. The Cardinals never once had a runner in scoring position against Liriano. Mark Melancon danced around a pair of base runners in the ninth to nail down the 5-0 victory. The 78-56 Cardinals and Pirates enter into a first place tie atop the NL Central. The two clubs have five more games against each other through the remainder of the regular season.

Video: Jake Arrieta hits a 465-foot home run off of Zack Greinke

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Jake Arrieta‘s bat is in midseason form already. The Cubs’ ace swatted a solo home run to center field off of Zack Greinke in Thursday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game, his first homer of the spring.

The blast went 465 feet, according to MLB.com’s Daren Willman.

Arrieta has hit two home runs in each of the past two seasons. Madison Bumgarner (eight) and Noah Syndergaard (four) are the only other pitchers to match or exceed his output in that department.

Greinke, meanwhile, is hoping to bounce back after a miserable 2016 season. He finished with an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in 26 starts in his first year with the Diamondbacks.

Luis Valbuena to miss four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring

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Angels first baseman Luis Valbuena will miss the next four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring, Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Valbuena, 31, signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Angels in January and was on track to get the lion’s share of the playing time at first base. While he’s out, however, C.J. Cron will handle first base on a regular basis. When Valbeuna returns, the two will likely form a platoon.

Last year with the Astros, Valbuena hit a solid .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances.