PITTSBURGH — Making his return after spending nearly a month on the disabled list to rest his right elbow, Milwaukee’s Junior Guerra knew he was on a pitch count against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.
When the count ran out earlier than he anticipated, the Brewers’ expanded bullpen more than picked up the slack.
Six Milwaukee relievers shut down the Pirates over the final 5 2/3 innings and Scooter Gennett’s RBI-double in the sixth provided all the offense the Brewers needed in a 1-0 victory.
“A nine-inning shutout using seven pitchers, which is probably only in September baseball,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “But they did great. They all pitched tough innings.”
Guerra reached his 70-pitch limit with runners on first and second and one out in the third. Jacob Barnes, who was also activated from the disabled list on Friday after dealing with his own right elbow issues, got Jordy Mercer to fly out and struck out opposing pitcher Jameson Taillon.
Blaine Boyer (2-3) pitched a scoreless fifth to pick up the win. Tyler Thornburg worked the ninth for his seventh save.
Guerra was hardly crisp while allowing five hits and two walks but said he felt healthy.
“He generally gets stronger as he goes,” Counsell said. “And he started to kind of get his split going, and then he ran out of pitches.”
The Pirates swept four games from the Brewers in Milwaukee last weekend to bolster their playoff hopes but have now dropped four straight and failed to get a runner to third base at the beginning of a pivotal 10-game homestand. Pittsburgh remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second wild card in the National League.
Andrew McCutchen had three of the Pirates’ seven hits and Taillon was stellar after getting knocked around by the Brewers last week but Pittsburgh couldn’t take advantage of the few opportunities afforded by the Brewers.
The Pirates’ best chance to tie the game came in the eighth when Josh Harrison led off with a single. Carlos Torres tried to pick Harrison off first but the ball sailed past Hernan Perez. Harrison raced to second and kept on going but Perez threw a strike from across the diamond to third, where Jonathan Villar easily applied the tag in plenty of time.
“In a split second, in the thick of things it looked like I was going to be safe,” Harrison said. “Next thing, I wasn’t. Nothing you can really do. If I stop at second and the ball doesn’t kick back to him, I could have been at third.”
Pitching in a meaningful September for the first time as a professional, Taillon put together a solid bounce-back performance after the Brewers touched him for five runs last Saturday. Taillon surrendered three hits and one run over six innings, striking out four without issuing a walk and needing only 76 pitches to get 18 outs.
His only hiccup came when he hit Martin Maldonado leading off the sixth. Maldonado moved to second on a groundout and scored when Gennett’s drive to deep center was just out of McCutchen’s reach. The 24-year-old Taillon, just two years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, said he felt “fresher” than he has in some time and understands the team is carefully monitoring his workload.
“If I can help contribute in any way, that’s great,” the rookie said. “I’m aware of the standings. I’m aware of where we’re at. I’m aware what’s at stake.”
Pirates: P Gerrit Cole did some flat ground work on Friday as he continues his rehab from inflammation in his right elbow. Cole, on the DL since Aug. 25, is hopeful to return this season.
Ivan Nova will try to keep his Pittsburgh renaissance going when he makes his sixth start with the Pirates since being acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees. Nova is 4-0 with a 2.87 ERA since the coming to Pittsburgh, including a 3-1 win over Milwaukee in his last start. Milwaukee’s Jimmy Nelson is still searching for the form he had in April and May. The right-hander is 2-10 with a 5.87 ERA in his last 16 starts dating to June 3.