MILWAUKEE -- Between Chase Anderson's electric start and Brad Miller's Brewers debut on Saturday, Milwaukee might have fewer questions entering the final month before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Anderson rebounded from a home run-heavy outing against the Phillies to strike out a season-high nine and Miller drove in a run, but Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina's second multi-homer game in four days handed the Brewers a 3-2 defeat on Saturday afternoon at Miller Park. Milwaukee stayed two games ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central after Chicago lost to Cincinnati on Saturday.
With Zach Davies, Wade Miley and Jimmy Nelson all sidelined for the Brewers, Milwaukee needs the Anderson it became accustomed to last season when he finished 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA and only allowed 14 home runs in 141 1/3 innings -- otherwise, they might need to shop for an extra starter at the Deadline. Except for seven shutout innings against the Cubs on June 12, the 2017 Anderson had been nowhere to be seen since getting off to a strong April, entering Saturday with already 16 homers surrendered.
Despite a second-inning shot to Molina, Anderson was dominant against a Cardinals lineup that has managed seven total runs over three games this series. He struck out seven batters looking, the second most in a start by any Major League pitcher this season (Corey Kluber, nine).
"The strikeouts were really good," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He struggled with his command a little bit, but it's close. The misses were good, the stuff was really good, crisp. It's just the next step of pushing the strike zone a bit more. But he gave us a chance today and did a nice job."
It wasn't the most efficient outing for Anderson -- 100 pitches and just 57 strikes with four walks over five innings -- but he avoided any big frames and exited with the lead.
On his up-and-down outing, Anderson liked that he was more consistent than he has been but still said he was "spotty" and must work on the fastball up in the zone to be the ace the Brewers need.
"I'd have it one hitter, but I wouldn't have it the next," Anderson said. "Overall, I kept us in the game, but the four walks are still what I'm working on. I'm either getting guys 3-0 or 0-2 and the pitch count is getting up there. But that's something that you do as you try to be more consistent. I call this a good building game."
Milwaukee built its advantage on a first-inning rally, capped by Miller's RBI single on his first pitch as a Brewer. Miller, who also drew a walk in the seventh inning and converted all of his defensive chances at second base, was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday morning as the Brewers optioned right fielder Domingo Santana.
With Tyler Saladino still serving a stint on the disabled list and Orlando Arcia batting .220 since returning from a brief stay in Triple-A in late May, the Brewers can surely use Miller's bat -- which had 30 home runs in 2016 -- for middle-infield depth.
The Brewers struggled to hit Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas after the first, recording one hit over his final 5 2/3 innings.
"It's one of those things where he was locating his pitches pretty well," said Eric Thames, who went 1-for-4. "As hitters, we have to do a better job of not swinging at balls in the dirt and barrel the balls he leaves us to barrel."
Jeremy Jeffress allowed the go-ahead two-run homer to Molina in the sixth. Jeffress' season ERA dipped to 0.32 on May 27 but has jumped to 1.19 after allowing four earned runs since May 30.
"I think that's the fine margins of relief pitching," Counsell said. "He made some good pitches that a good hitter got him on a pitch that probably got a little too much of the plate."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Brewers unable to solve Hicks:Jordan Hicks continued a spectacular rookie campaign for the Cardinals by leaving the tying run on third base by inducing a Manny Pina groundout to end the seventh inning. Hernan Perez reached second base on a throwing error by Jedd Gyorko and stole third during Pina's at-bat, but the Brewers' catcher couldn't cash in on one of Milwaukee's late opportunities to tie the game.
The Brewers are 2-for-21 (.095) against the 21-year-old Hicks this season.
"We did a nice job late in the game," Counsell said. "We put pressure on all of their relievers and made it tough on their relievers, just couldn't get that next hit."
Aguilar can't deliver:Jesus Aguilar had another chance to tie the game or put the Brewers ahead late, but he grounded out with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning. One night after being the hero with two home runs -- one to end Jack Flaherty's no-hitter in the seventh and a walk-off blast off Bud Norris -- Aguilar produced his 50th RBI of the season on a first-inning sacrifice fly but finished 0-for-3 for the game.
"We wanted to pitch [Aguilar] tough," Molina said. "We knew he was seeing the ball good. That's the guy we didn't want to beat us again."
Milwaukee left six runners on base and went 1-for-4 with runners in scoring position in the loss.
"It's tough to put us down," Counsell said. "They beat us today, they won out, but we made it tough on them. We had the guy up there a couple times to break it open or get that next hit, and we couldn't do it today."
CAIN LEAVES GAME
Lorenzo Cain exited after the fourth inning -- the second time this series he was unable to finish a game (right hamstring strain on Thursday) -- with groin tightness. Cain went 0-for-1 and was plunked in the left shoulder by Mikolas in the first inning -- his second time getting hit this series.
"He's a little beat up right now," Counsell said. "We're just being cautious with it."
Counsell said Cain will have Sunday's series finale off, signaling Ryan Braun's first start since Tuesday.
Braun came in to play left field, with Thames moving over to right on Saturday. The action for Braun was his first since spending Wednesday in Los Angeles getting cryotherapy on his right thumb.
Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (6-2, 3.18) will get the start when the Brewers and Cardinals conclude their four-game series at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday at Miller Park. Chacin pitched six innings and allowed one run against the Pirates last Monday, but he took the loss in a 1-0 game. He surrendered nine runs (six earned) over 10 1/3 innings against St. Louis in consecutive April starts. Right-hander Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.69) starts for the Cardinals.