Big hits and solid pitching can keep the Milwaukee Brewers in the playoff hunt. Manager Craig Counsell got both of them against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
Eric Thames hit his 29th home run, Domingo Santana went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and the Brewers beat the Pirates 5-2.
"For us to do something pretty special, (Thames) is one of the guys we need a good three weeks from," Counsell said. "He is certainly capable of it, and tonight was a good start."
Thames' home run snapped a 13-inning scoreless streak and helped erase Monday night's 7-0 loss to Pittsburgh.
The Brewers remained 2 1/2 games behind the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs who beat the New York Mets 8-3.
"We are in a playoff hunt," Thames said. "It is not like we are 15, 20 games out. We are right there. The energy is high in this dugout. Just got to keep it rolling."
And, rolling they were against Gerrit Cole.
Cole (11-10) took his first loss in 10 road starts since the Atlanta Braves beat him 5-2 on May 22. He slipped to 8-1 away from PNC Park over that stretch after allowing five runs and seven hits in six innings.
Santana's two-run double highlighted the Brewers' four-run third.
After Ryan Braun drove in a run with a fielder's choice, an intentional walk set up the force at any base. Santana foiled the move with his first hit. Thames added the last run with a sharp liner to right that beat the shift. Santana failed to slide coming home on the play and was an easy out.
Cole tied his season-high with 10 strikeouts in his fifth start against Milwaukee this season. He beat Milwaukee 8-1 on June 19 at Miller Park, striking out a season-high 10 for the first time.
"We get five runs off (Cole), and you feel like you had a pretty good night," Counsell said.
Counsell turned to the bullpen to protect the 5-2 lead. Jeremy Jeffress, Oliver Drake, Jared Hughes, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader each turned in a scoreless inning. Jeffress (3-0) was the pitcher of record. Corey Knebel pitched the ninth for his 35th save in 40 chances.
"We put up six zeroes after that inning," Counsell said. "That is a credit to the bullpen."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle agreed.
"They've earned the position they're in in this hunt, in this league" Hurdle said of the Brewers' relievers. "A lot of the credit goes to their bullpen and the job they've done out there."
Thames drove an 0-2 pitch into the second deck in right, but the Pirates took the lead the next inning on Jody Mercer's run-scoring groundout and Jordan Luplow's bloop RBI single off lefty Brent Suter.
Thames and Cole battled each other. Thames came out ahead with the homer.
"(Cole) has been attacking me up in the zone," Thames said. "I mean he throws 100 (mph). You have to get started early. You have get the head (of the bat) out. So, I tried it and it worked."
Suter allowed two runs and three hits in his third outing and second start of three innings since coming off the disabled list Aug. 31 with left rotator cuff strain. He went three in his previous start Sept. 3 and pitched an inning of scoreless relief Sept. 5 in Cincinnati.
CHASE STEPS UP
RHP Chase Anderson (9-3, 2.93 ERA) pitches on short rest for the first time as a starter, covering the loss of the injured Jimmy Nelson. Anderson allowed one hit in five innings in his last start, a 15-2 victory Saturday over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He faced 17 batters and threw 67 pitches (43 strikes), setting up the possibility of filling in for Nelson on Wednesday. Anderson beat the Pirates 4-2 on June 22 at Miller Park in his only start this season against Pittsburgh.
Nelson beat the Cubs for his 12th victory of the season, but left after hurting himself diving back to first. He strained his right rotator cuff and suffered a partial anterior labrum tear.
The Pirates set their rotation for the upcoming series against Cincinnati. RHP Chad Kuhl (7-10, 4.21 ERA) goes Friday, RHP Ivan Nova (11-13, 4.25) starts Saturday and Cole has Sunday. RHP Trevor Williams was bumped from the rotation.
Brewers: Nelson (right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear) headed to California for a second opinion on his season-ending injury.
Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-6, 7.45 ERA) makes his 13th major-league start of the season and second against Milwaukee. He lost 6-2 to Zach Davies on May 7 at PNC Park.
Brewers: Anderson (9-3, 2.93 ERA) makes his 22nd start of the season filling in for Nelson. Anderson, who beat the Cubs 15-2 on Saturday, has never made consecutive starts on short rest.
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