Bits: Liriano strong in return to rotation

Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano earned victory No. 1 on the season Wednesday, tossing six innings of three-hit, shutout ball against the Oakland Athletics. It's not a good lineup he faced, as only Josh Reddick is slugging greater than .400, but Liriano fanned nine in his return from bullpen banishment. The problem is, we've been fooled before, as with his May 2011 no-hitter. Let's see at least three more good outings before buying.

Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks continues to play and hit; his home run Wednesday was his sixth in 95 at-bats, and was the fastest home run to leave a big-league park this season (2.84 seconds). Middlebrooks has knocked in runs in six of nine games, with five multi-hit games. It looks like Middlebrooks, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez will each keep playing regularly.

Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow won for the sixth time Wednesday, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings and fanning eight Baltimore Orioles, but the big story was him leaving early after being struck on the right shin by a line drive. Morrow, among the top 20 starting pitchers on the Player Rater, is day-to-day and could make his next start.

Chicago Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger had two hits and two RBIs Wednesday in his first game in more than a month since suffering an oblique injury. Clevenger is hitting .500 after 22 at-bats, which obviously can't continue, but he did hit for average in the minors, and should play regularly with all other Cubs catchers hurt. Look his way in NL-only leagues and multi-catcher formats.

Another fellow worth watching in NL-only formats is Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer; he singled Wednesday in four at-bats in his first big league start. Clint Barmes has been awful and Mercer showed some pop and defensive acumen in previous minor league seasons. And he's not Barmes. It's plausible Mercer can hit double-digit home runs.

And finally, Tim Lincecum owners won't be pleased their ace finished May with a 5.88 ERA and nary a win, but the right-hander allowed only two runs (one earned) in seven innings Wednesday, his first quality start since April 28. SweetSpot blogger Dave Schoenfield says Lincecum isn't struggling due to bad luck; I say this is a 200-strikeout pitcher likely to post a sub-3.50 ERA from here on out.