MILWAUKEE -- On a night when Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel were essentially unavailable out of the Brewers' bullpen, Jhoulys Chacin delivered seven effective innings.
The veteran right-hander came one batter shy of three trips through the Braves' lineup, scattering three hits -- two off the bat of Ozzie Albies -- and just two, first-inning runs. Aided by four early runs off Atlanta starter Max Fried, Chacin picked up his seventh win as the Brewers defeated the Braves, 7-2, at Miller Park on Thursday night. With the Cubs idle, the Brewers extended their lead in the National League Central to 1 1/2 games with their NL-best 52nd win.
"We're doing a really nice job," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "It's our starting pitching that's doing the nice job. Our bullpen's gotten on a roll here and is putting up a bunch of zeros. But we're also getting very effective starts and tonight, seven really strong innings from our starter. The whole staff is pitching very well."
Chacin struggled in the first, hitting Ender Inciarte to lead off the four-game series, and followed that up by allowing Albies' third triple of the season. Albies scored when Freddie Freeman bounced a grounder at Chacin, who didn't hold his gaze at Albies enough to keep him at third base on the throw to first -- a play that Counsell said was "really good" and "heads-up baserunning" by Albies.
"We started off behind the eight-ball, obviously," Counsell said. "Jhoulys shut them down in the second, then we had really good at-bats in the second inning."
Chacin settled in after the first and retired 20 of his last 24 batters faced, striking out seven over his final six innings of work. The two hit batters was a season high, as was the seven innings pitched, tying his May 15 outing in Arizona.
He credited his longevity Thursday to an efficient breaking ball that kept his pitch total at 93 -- 62 of which were strikes.
"I threw a lot of curveball/sliders today, well-located, and when I threw my sinker, [I got] the [inning-ending] double play in the sixth [that] was a huge play there," Chacin said. "Everything was working for me. I was throwing strikes. I threw a lot of balls the last couple games, so I tried to throw strikes and keep the ball down."
Counsell needed an extended outing out of Chacin after heavy workloads for his top relievers during the three-game sweep over the Twins earlier this week. Hader worked three scoreless innings of relief Tuesday, Jeffress threw 23 pitches in 1 2/3 innings Wednesday and Knebel worked both days, picking up his ninth and 10th saves.
Already up 4-2 in the eighth inning, the Brewers added three insurance runs, highlighted by a two-run homer from Hernan Perez, who finished a double shy of the cycle. The extra runs kept Jeffress, who warmed up during the eighth inning, in the bullpen as Dan Jennings retired all six batters he faced over the final two frames en route to his first save of the season and second of his career.
"Add-on runs always make it a little more comfortable for the ninth," Counsell said. "We were able to avoid [Jeffress] today, which was nice. Really, two solid and important outings for the bullpen."
Chacin's cushion came when the Brewers chased Fried -- who was battling a blister on his left middle finger -- after three innings and four runs, starting with Jonathan Villar scoring on a sacrifice fly following his first-inning leadoff double. Milwaukee added three more in the third, highlighted by Perez's triple and Tyler Saladino taking home on a wild pitch.
With a 52-35 record, the Brewers are tied with the 1982 team for the best record through 87 games in franchise history.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Highlight-reel catches are becoming the norm for Keon Broxton in center field, who, according to Statcast™, made his fifth four-star catch of the season on Albies' soft liner in the sixth inning. Entering Thursday, only nine other players had five 4-star catches all season, and Broxton didn't make his season debut until being called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs on June 27. On this occasion, Broxton covered 48 feet in 3.7 seconds to take the wind from Albies' sails on a play that had just a 35 percent catch probability.
Broxton made just his seventh start of 2018 on Thursday, but has made quite an impact in that short time. The 28-year-old robbed the Twins' James Dozier of a ninth-inning homer Wednesday.
"With Keon, it's been that he's in a stretch that is like a hot hitter at the plate, and he makes a play a day where he takes runs off the board," Counsell said. "Defensively, you've got to get opportunities. You're not guaranteed opportunities like you are when you're in the lineup. But he's gotten opportunities and he's made some plays, and they've been run-scoring plays. It's been incredible really, just to get those opportunities and make very difficult plays."
HE SAID IT
"It is frustrating. I don't know if they saw something else there. The picture on the scoreboard felt clear. I thought [Acuna] was shaking his top hand on the bat, not even his bottom hand. So I'm not sure what they were looking at on that one. If there are pictures that they saw that we didn't, maybe we'll get them. But I don't know what they saw on that one." -- Counsell, on the Brewers' seventh-inning challenge where a Ronald Acuna Jr. hit-by-pitch ruling was not overturned, despite it appearing the ball hit the knob of the bat, not Acuna's hand
Video: [email protected]: Acuna hit by pitch after review in the 7th
Right-hander Freddy Peralta (3-1, 2.28 ERA) makes his second career start at Miller Park when he faces the Braves on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Peralta allowed three runs in the first inning during his last start in Cincinnati, but followed that up with four shutout frames. Atlanta will send right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (6-4, 2.02) to oppose him in the second game of the four-game set.