MILWAUKEE -- Steven Brault and the Pirates spoiled what was supposed to be a happy homecoming for the Brewers, who managed just three singles in a 7-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday in their return from a weekend sweep of division-leading Chicago.
The Brewers ran into a roadblock in Brault, who earned his first Major League win after collecting more hits (two) then he surrendered (one) in six scoreless innings of the Pirates' series-opening win at Miller Park. Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer homered while Brault, A.J. Schugel, Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero combined on a three-hit shutout.
"It was a frustrating day," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "There was never really a point where we got anything good started."
The Brewers' loss behind rookie right-hander Brandon Woodruff dropped them 2 1/2 games behind the idle Cubs in the National League Central, and into third place in the chase for the second NL Wild Card -- 4 games behind the Rockies and one-half game behind the Cardinals.
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"Playing spoiler is really fun. I would rather be playing [in] contention," Brault said. "It's always fun, no matter who's coming out there. We just want to win all the time, no matter what. They're in contention. We can play spoiler a little bit. It's always fun."
Brault had allowed seven earned runs on 12 hits in his last six innings before Monday's start, but shut down a Brewers team two days removed from scoring 15 runs in a rout at Wrigley Field. The Brewers didn't have a hit until Jesus Aguilar grounded a single to left field leading off the fifth inning.
"Just showing that I wasn't afraid to be in the zone and just let them hit the ball, I think that's huge. That's key," Brault said. "This is a good hitting team. Everybody rolls up, and it's just like, 'Wow. Those are good numbers. Those are good numbers.' It was fun to be able to attack them and let them get themselves out."
Woodruff struggled for the first time in his five Major League starts. In his first outing since pitching seven two-hit innings against Max Scherzer and the Nationals on Sept. 2, Woodruff was charged with six earned runs on seven hits in five-plus innings.
"I don't think [sweeping the Cubs] had anything to do with how we played tonight," Woodruff said. "I thought we played well, just couldn't get anything to fall for us. … That's all part of the season."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
McCutchen gets it started: The Brewers had seen this before from McCutchen, whose two-run homer in the first inning gave the Pirates an early advantage. Besides pushing him to 199 career home runs, McCutchen's first home run since Aug. 8 was the 31st of his career against the Brewers -- most off any opponent -- and his 20th at Miller Park. That's McCutchen's highest total at any road venue, and the most by any Brewers visitor.
"I did something right, so that's a good start. To hit it to right field and get it out, I've got to be doing something right," McCutchen said. "It's a hitters' park, man."
Pitchers who rake: Twice, Brault beat the Brewers with his bat. In the fifth, his one-out double to the right-field corner off Woodruff preceded Marte's two-run homer. In the sixth, after the Brewers lost a critical challenge, they intentionally walked Mercer to load the bases for Brault's two-out, two-run single and a 6-0 lead. He's no easy out; including his 2-for-3 on Monday, Brault is 18-for-48 as a pro, good for a .375 average.
"I want to be able to carry that from what I've done before and be able to keep it going," Brault said. "That's something I want to stay committed to. … That's something I definitely like that I can bring to the table."
"Their pitcher, offensively, had an important night," Counsell said. "His hit off [Jared] Hughes was a big hit to make it 6-0."
• Crew confounded by roller-coaster season
"It was weird. That's the first start I think I've ever had where I didn't strike anybody out. My work throughout the week and then getting here tonight was, 'I'm going to finish hitters. I'm going to get ahead of hitters and I'm going to finish them.' I think I did a lot better job of that tonight." -- Brault, on the difference between his last start and this one
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Pirates left-hander Dan Runzler, called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday, made his first Major League appearance since Sept. 30, 2012. He threw two pitches and recorded one out to end the eighth inning.
• McCutchen has hit 17 of his 24 homers this year on the road. He has reached base safely in his last 11 games against the Brewers, and has gotten on base in his last 15 games at Miller Park, a streak dating back to July 31, 2016.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With two on and one out in the sixth, the Pirates' Elias Diaz legged out a grounder to avoid an inning-ending double play. The Brewers asked for a review of two elements -- did Sean Rodriguez violate the slide rule at second base, and did Diaz indeed beat the relay to first. After a review of 3 minutes, 22 seconds, the ruling confirmed no violation for Rodriguez and supported the call at first.
"I don't predict that stuff. They make the decision," Counsell said. "The play at first is what we thought we had the best chance at. They obviously disagreed."
Pirates: Coming off his best start of the season, right-hander Gerrit Cole will take the mound for the Pirates on Tuesday night at Miller Park. Cole held the Cubs to two hits and struck out eight over eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss Wednesday night at PNC Park. Cole owns a 4.71 ERA in five career starts in Milwaukee. First pitch is scheduled for 7:40 p.m. ET.
Brewers: Left-hander Brent Suter gets the start at 6:40 p.m. CT in what will amount to another bullpen day for the Brewers. Suter has pitched twice since coming off a stint on the disabled list for a rotator cuff injury, a three-inning start against the Nationals and a one-inning relief stint against the Reds. That means he isn't stretched out to pitch deep into the game, and the Brewers will have to dip into their crowded bullpen for innings.
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