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.

Yoenis Cespedes blames a lack of golf for his early season slump

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Back during the 2015 playoffs the sorts of New York media types who love to find reasons to criticize players for petty reasons decided to criticize Yoenis Cespedes for playing golf the day of a playoff game. The Mets won the series with the Cubs during which the controversy, such as it was, occurred and it was soon dropped.

It was picked back up again in 2016 when Cespedes, while on the disabled list with a strained quad, was seen playing golf. Despite the fact that everyone involved said that golf did not contribute to his injury and that golf would have no impact on his injured quad, it was deemed “a bad look” by a columnist looking to get some mileage out of bashing Cespedes for having a hobby that probably half of all ballplayers share. They did it when he showed off his fancy cars too, by the way, even though just about every ballplayer has a fancy car or three. When you’re a superstar in New York — especially when you’re one with whom the media is not particularly close for various reasons — you’re going to catch hell for seemingly nothing.

Now there’s a new twist to the Cespedes golf saga. Yoenis himself says that his poor start — he’s hitting .195/.258/.354 and leads the league in strikeouts — is due to . . . not enough golf! From the New York Times:

He gave a possible reason for the poor start this weekend: not playing enough golf, a hobby beloved by many baseball players. And, yes, he is serious.

“In previous seasons, one of the things I did when I wasn’t going well was to play golf,” he said after a game on Friday in which he struck out four times but still drove in the go-ahead run in the 12th inning. “This year, I’m not playing golf.”

The story says Cespedes quit golf last summer because he worried that it was contributing to hamstring problems. He’s thinking about going back to it soon, as he thinks it’ll help his swing. Given that he’ll catch hell either way, he may as well do what he wants.