Bucs miss on sweep
MILWAUKEE – Andrew McCutchen isn’t feeling 100 percent less than a week after coming off the disabled list for a fractured rib, yet he’s still hitting home runs.
Imagine how well the 2013 National League MVP would be hitting if he was fully healthy.
McCutchen hit a solo homer off closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth to draw Pittsburgh within a run, but the Pirates fell short in the ninth with the tying run aboard after Pedro Alvarez struck out to end a 4-3 loss Sunday to the Brewers.
Milwaukee snapped the Pirates’ three-game winning streak and dropped Pittsburgh five games back in the NL Central. The Pirates needed a win to complete a three-game sweep.
A bit of good news for Pittsburgh is that McCutchen is still driving the ball since coming off the disabled list Tuesday. He hit two homers during the three-game set at Miller Park.
“It’s definitely not 100 percent. … But good enough to hit a home run in the ninth against their closer,” McCutchen said. “Good enough to play, good enough to swing. And that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the season.”
Mike Fiers held Pittsburgh to two hits in the first seven innings for his fourth straight win since coming up from Triple-A to help Milwaukee avoid a three-game sweep at home. Fiers (4-1) fanned seven and allowed Starling Marte’s two-run shot in the second before retiring 16 of the next 17 batters.
Fiers’ fastball tops only at about 90 mph, but the lanky, 6-foot-2 right-hander’s motion can be a little tough.
“It’s all about location. Downhill angle, number one weapon that he’s got,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “That size, he gets on top of the ball with downhill angle.”
Milwaukee knocked around Vance Worley (5-4) for four runs over the first two innings, with each hit coming with two outs.
“Back-to-back innings, I haven’t seen it very often, with two outs, nobody on, four straight hits,” Hurdle said. “And again it goes back to rhythm. I think his (delivery) angle.”
Worley settled down after the first two innings, retiring 13 of 15 until leaving with one out in the seventh. The right-hander allowed a season-high 12 hits.
Jonathan Lucroy hit his National League-leading 43rd double for the Brewers, who snapped a three-game losing streak to increase their lead in the Central to 1 1/2 games over second-place St. Louis.
Lucroy singled home a run in the second after Carlos Gomez reached on a two-out double to left-center that glanced off McCutchen’s glove. Aramis Ramirez followed two batters later with his second single of the day to drive home Lucroy for a 4-2 lead.
The Pirates tied it at 2 in the top of the second after Marte homered on to the concourse above left-center. But Fiers allowed just Russell Martin’s single in the fourth from there, getting out of that inning with a pretty over-the-shoulder catch with two outs by shortstop Elian Herrera in shallow center to save a potential hit.
Fiers has succeeded since stepping into the rotation for the injured Matt Garza by mixing pitches and keeping the ball down in the zone.
“It has been incredibly impressive,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “I don’t think anybody foresaw him coming up and being the best pitcher in baseball the last four starts.”
PIRATES: INF Clint Barmes could rejoin the team during a three-game series against St. Louis, which starts Monday in Pittsburgh. Barmes has been on the disabled list since July 6 with strained left groin.
BREWERS: Garza, who was supposed to throw a light bullpen session Sunday, is recovering from a strained rib cage muscle. Manager Ron Roenicke said Garza will throw again Tuesday if Sunday’s bullpen outing went well. Garza went on the disabled list Aug. 5.
PIRATES: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-10) will try to rebound from a tough outing when he opens the Cardinals series. He gave up nine runs in four-plus innings in an 11-3 loss last week to Atlanta.
BREWERS: RHP Kyle Lohse (11-7) returns to the rotation to open a three-game series in San Diego. Lohse hasn’t started since Aug. 13 because of a right ankle injury.