MILWAUKEE — The Pittsburgh Pirates are clinging to playoff hopes and got a great start from rookie Chad Kuhl to keep them in the hunt.
Sean Rodriguez hit a home run and a two-run single, Andrew McCutchen went deep, rookie Chad Kuhl pitched six strong innings and the Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 on Wednesday night.
The Pirates won their sixth straight at Miller Park, and sixth of seven overall to improve to 76-75. Pittsburgh began the day 4 1/2 games behind San Francisco for the second NL wild card spot. The Pirates also have to hurdle the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins, too.
Kuhl (5-3) pitched two-hit ball through the fourth before the Brewers manufactured a run on Jonathan Villar’s two-out single in the fifth. Kuhl struck out six and walked one in his second career start against the Brewers.
“He’s cutting teeth, man,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s going to find his way. There were challenges tonight. He met one in the first inning and he met one in the fifth.”
In the sixth, Kuhl retired the first two batters before Domingo Santana hit a ground ball with so much top spin that it slithered through the infield. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage came out to mound before Hernan Perez stepped in. Whatever was said worked as Perez chased the first pitch and flied out.
“He pitched six innings and only had four three-ball counts,” Hurdle said. “He had an efficient sixth to get us where we needed to go.”
The win was much better result than the last time he faced the Brewers.
He took a no decision at Miller Park on Aug. 25, throwing six shutout innings before Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a two-run homer with one out in the seventh.
“You just focus on what’s ahead of us and you can’t really focus on what’s happened or the way that we’ve been playing,” Kuhl said. “Just look forward and this team’s done a really nice job of that.”
The Pirates’ bullpen silenced the Brewers bats the rest of the way. Juan Nicasio (7th) and Felipe Rivero (8th) set the stage for Tony Watson who converted his 15th save in 18 chances when he pitched the ninth.
McCutchen helped the Pirates jump out to an early lead for the second consecutive game. He crushed a 2-2 pitch that just slipped by the left-field foul pole for his 24th home run. Tuesday, he hit a two-run double in the first.
“I thought it was going foul, but it didn’t,” Nelson said. “It was a good fast ball down and away. It ran up and in. I was impressed that he got to it. He did a good job of squaring up on a mistake right there.”
Rodriguez’s two-run single finished the scoring in the first off starter Jimmy Nelson (8-15) and extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Rodriguez hit his 18th home run of the season in the fourth. He has homered in in four of his last five games.
Homeplate umpire Jerry Lane ejected Brewers manager Craig Counsell in the top of the fourth. Adam Frazier had just fouled off a pitch from Nelson that bounced over his foot, out of the box and carried to first baseman Christ Carter who stepped on the bag for the apparent third out. Frazier looked puzzled, but when the Brewers started off the field, Lane signaled foul ball.
Counsell came out to argue with Lane.
“Overall, what upset me was he just missed the call,” Counsell said. “I felt like he changed his call. More than anything, I felt like he changed his call.”
Second baseman Scooter Gennett noticed the hesitation in Lane’s call.
“Usually when a guy fouls a ball off his foot, the guy says it right away,” Gennett said. “He (Lane) kind of waited for the whole play to develop and then called it foul.”
Counsell finished and walked back toward the dugout, but then turned back for some final thoughts. Lane and Counsell became animated in their discussion before Lane ejected Counsell. First base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ushered Counsell to the dugout. Bench coach Pat Murphy took over for Counsell.
Pirates: LF Starling Marte missed his 16th consecutive game with low back discomfort, but pinch hit in the eighth and took a called third strike. He went through another full workout and the club anticipates his return to the field in the near future.
Brewers: LF Ryan Braun missed his second consecutive game to be with his wife, Larisa, and their new son, Greyson Joseph. Manager Craig Counsell said that it was possible Braun may be back Thursday for the last of the three-game series with the Pirates. . RHP Taylor Jungmann (0-4, 8.34 ERA) makes his first start since April 28 against the Chicago Cubs when he faces Cincinnati on Saturday. He made the Opening Day roster, but then struggled mightily in his first five starts that he was demoted. Jungmann hasn’t allowed a run in 10 appearances since being recalled from Double-A Biloxi on Sept. 6.
Pirates: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (3-5, 4.87 ERA) makes his 10th start since being reinstated from the disabled list (facial fractures) on Aug. 4. He is unbeaten in his last four starts against the Brewers, including a 5-3 decision this Aug. 26 at Miller Park.
Brewers: RHP Chase Anderson (8-11, 4.47) makes his fifth start against the Pirates this season. He is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in the four previous outings.