Nelson sharp, Lucroy rakes in Houston tuneup

April 1st, 2016

HOUSTON -- With the lineups resembling regular-season units, Thursday night's exhibition game between the Astros and Brewers had some intrigue to it as the teams tune up for next week's Opening Day action.

Given the respective projections for each team, then, it was a bit of a role reversal as Milwaukee used starter Jimmy Nelson's shutout effort and Jonathan Lucroy's 3-for-3 night to down Houston, 6-1, in Minute Maid Park.

Nelson appeared more than ready as a rotation mainstay, outdueling Collin McHugh, a 19-game winner last year.

"First time I've played a Spring Training game at the actual [opponents'] home field, so I enjoyed it because it felt more like a season game here in Houston," Nelson said. "It was good to control the emotions, get that feeling before the real games start."

Ryan Braun added a solo home run, and the Brewers piled up 14 hits in a relentless offensive night. Four Milwaukee batters recorded at least two hits, though it didn't faze McHugh much beyond annoyance with his fastball location.

"They put some good at-bats together," McHugh said. "People will say they are rebuilding, but they are a Major League baseball team, and they hit any mistakes you make."

Tyler White, Houston's newly anointed starting first baseman, drove in the Astros' only run with a seventh-inning RBI single.

But Nelson was gone by then, five strikeouts and 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball already in the books.

"It was a great final start for Jimmy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He just had good stuff, threw lots of strikes. Exactly the way he wanted to finish his spring."

The stellar outing dropped Nelson's Spring Training ERA to 1.17 in four appearances, a positive sign for the front end of Milwaukee's rotation.

"My last few starts, I've kind of figured something out that's allowed me to repeat my delivery and my command's gotten a lot better," Nelson said. "It's nice to figure something out like that before you go into the season."

Both squads played at nearly full strength for approximately six innings, but Nelson shut down Houston stars Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer. They were a combined 0-for-8 with a walk. The Astros only posted one extra-base hit (Preston Tucker's seventh-inning double).

Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson each pitched with Houston's closer role still up for grabs, and the results were mixed.

Gregerson faced only two batters, allowing an RBI double to Lucroy and striking out former teammate Chris Carter. Giles tossed a scoreless inning but needed 22 pitches and two strikeouts to strand a runner in scoring position.

"It was another long inning for him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "They fouled a couple balls and got a couple balls to hit. It is electric stuff coming out of his hand. ... Getting him up to 20 pitches and having him endure a little bit of stress has been pretty regular this spring."

The teams meet again Friday at 1:10 p.m. CT, with Matt Garza getting the ball for Milwaukee against Houston's Mike Fiers (watch live on MLB.TV). The teams also meet in the second series of the regular season next weekend at Miller Park.