PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Braun delivered two key late-inning home runs to back up a quality start by Jimmy Nelson, leading the Brewers to an 8-4 win over the Pirates on Friday night at PNC Park on Jackie Robinson Day.
With Milwaukee up by three runs in the sixth inning, Braun seemingly put the game out of reach by crushing a two-run shot off the batter's eye against Pirates lefty Kyle Lobstein. But the Bucs rallied for four runs in the seventh inning, pulling within a run and preparing to send in their top relievers.
"They made it close," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "But offensively, we were really good tonight. We didn't get that big hit to break it open, but there was constant pressure all night."
Braun struck again in the eighth, crushing another two-run shot to center -- this one off Pirates setup man Neftali Feliz -- to give the Brewers a three-run lead.
• Braun's heroics lead relentless Brewers lineup
"They're one of the best teams in baseball, one of the best offenses in the league, so you know that no lead is safe, especially here. They play great at home," Braun said. "Obviously, it's a really difficult lineup to shut down inning after inning. Obviously, all the extra tack-on runs we could get are extremely important and turned out to be extra important tonight."
Nelson, who improved to 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA on the year, kept the Bucs at bay as he threw six scoreless innings. But the Pirates finally got to the 26-year-old right-hander in the seventh, when Matt Joyce homered to center. Nelson went 4-2 with a 2.48 ERA in six starts against Pittsburgh last year.
"Everything we have seen him do before," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Nelson. "He settled in and made pitches."
• Cutch, Harrison honor Jackie with special cleats
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Brawny Braun: Braun gave the Brewers a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning with a two-run blast off the batter's eye in center field that traveled 437 feet, according to Statcast™. It was the second home run of the season for Braun, who added an eighth-inning blast to make Friday his 23rd career multi-homer game.
• Counsell applauds MLB's dedication to Jackie Robinson Day
Walk this way: Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke tied a career high with seven walks, one of them intentional and four of them to each of the Brewers' first four leadoff hitters. Three of those free passes came back to hurt Locke, coming around to score after beginning the inning on base. The left-hander gave up a run in the second inning without the Brewers hitting a ball out of the infield -- leadoff walk, infield single, catcher's interference, run-scoring double play -- and another in the fourth on a walk, sacrifice bunt, wild pitch and a single by Domingo Santana.
"Walks always come back to haunt you. That's what they've said for 100 years," Locke said. "I just put too many guys on base. Those opportunities catch up to you."
Missed opportunity: The Brewers loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning but were only able to score one unearned run on a double-play groundball by Scooter Gennett.
Re-Joyce: Braun's sixth-inning blast seemingly put the game out of reach for the Pirates, but they finally got to Nelson in the seventh. Josh Harrison drew a leadoff walk, and Jordy Mercer reached on an error by Gennett that advanced both runners. Up came Joyce, pinch-hitting for Lobstein, who swung at Nelson's first pitch -- a 94 mph sinker -- and sent it 402 feet to center field for a three-run homer. Joyce's first home run with the Pirates, the club's fourth of the season, pulled the Bucs within two runs and chased Nelson from the game. More >>
"It's one of those games it's frustrating to be a part of, especially when you're the one that's causing it. It's a tough game to watch from wherever you are, especially when you're out on the mound." -- Locke
In the top of the third inning, Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton broke for third base from second with shortstop Jonathan Villar at the plate. Broxton was initially called out, but Counsell challenged the call, and replays determined the speedster got under Freese's tag at third and was ruled safe.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates have given up at least one home run in each game since their Opening Day win over the Cardinals. Pittsburgh allowed one homer in each of the next five games, two each in the following three, one on Thursday and two on Friday. On the other hand, the Bucs have hit four home runs as a team this season.
• Pirates bullpen struggling early in season
Nelson has 15 Major League wins, five against Pittsburgh, the most of any opponent.
PIRATES PITCHING (COACH) CHANGE
With Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage absent Friday night for personal reasons, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas served as the pitching coach on the bench. Minor League pitching coordinator Scott Mitchell filled Rojas' role in the bullpen.
Brewers: Right-hander Taylor Jungmann will make his third start of the season Saturday, when he faces the Pirates at 6:05 p.m. CT. He was tagged for a career-high eight runs over two-plus innings in a 10-1 loss to the Cardinals on Monday. Opponents are batting .379 with one home run against Jungmann, who is 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA in four starts against Pittsburgh.
Pirates: Left-hander Jonathon Niese will make his third start with the Pirates at 7:05 p.m. ET after a pair of outings in which he allowed a combined seven earned runs over 11 innings. Niese's peripheral numbers are better than his 5.73 ERA might suggest, as he's given up only 10 hits and two walks while striking out 12 batters. The lefty is 2-1 with a 2.58 ERA in his last six starts against Milwaukee.
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