Francisco Liriano (oblique) cleared to return to the Pirates’ starting rotation this weekend

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Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano was dominant in his rehab debut Monday at Triple-A Indianapolis, striking out eight batters and surrendering only three hits over six scoreless innings against the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate from Lehigh Valley. He was so good, in fact, that his next start will be in the big leagues.

Bucs manager Clint Hurdle told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Liriano has been cleared to return to the club’s starting rotation this weekend against the Reds. The exact date of his return outing has not been revealed, but Saturday seems like the best bet.

Liriano has been on the disabled list since June 11 with a strained oblique. He was off to a disappointing start before the injury — with a 4.60 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 72 1/3 innings — but the 30-year-old southpaw is certainly capable of a big second half. Liriano had a 3.02 ERA and 122 WHIP in 161 frames last season.

The Pirates open play Tuesday with a 4 1/2 game deficit in the National League Central standings.

Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

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Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.

Basebrawl! Harper, Strickland punch away, Nats-Giants fight

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SAN FRANCISCO — Nationals slugger Bryce Harper and San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland both landed punches to the head during a wild brawl that erupted Monday after a hit by pitch.

Harper was hit in the right hip by Strickland’s 98 mph fastball in the eighth inning with Washington ahead 2-0.

Harper pointed the bat toward Strickland, charged the mound and fired his batting helmet wide of the pitcher. They started to swing away and they each connected as the benches and bullpens emptied.

At least two Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the brawl all the way into the dugout. Harper and Strickland were both ejected.

In the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland. After the star’s second shot, in Game 4, he stared at Strickland as he rounded the bases.