The Brewers look for their 18th straight victory over Pittsburgh when the NL Central rivals open a three-game series at PNC Park on Monday night.
With an 8-5 win over the Pirates (40-51) on May 5, Milwaukee (47-45) extended its winning streak in the series to 17 games. It’s the longest winning streak by one major league team over another since Baltimore beat Kansas City 23 straight times during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.
Ross Ohlendorf (7-7, 4.64 ERA) takes the mound for the Pirates in the series opener, making his first career appearance against Milwaukee.
Although Ohlendorf has been inconsistent during his first season as a full-time starting pitcher, the right-hander has looked comfortable at PNC Park, going 5-2 with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts there. In his last three home outings, Ohlendorf has yielded just three runs in 20 innings while limiting opponents to a .164 batting average.
Last Saturday, Ohlendorf allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2-3 innings and did not factor in the decision of an 8-7 loss at Philadelphia.
The Brewers counter with Mike Burns (2-2, 5.54), who is set to make his fifth career start and first against the Pirates.
A former reliever, Burns has alternated wins and losses in four starts in Milwaukee’s rotation, yielding five runs over 11 2-3 innings in the victories but 11 runs in 10 1-3 innings in the defeats. In his last outing July 11, the right-hander gave up three runs and six hits with a career-high seven strikeouts in five innings of a 6-3 home win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Manager Ken Macha has concerns about his bullpen's workload, beginning with short outings by starting pitchers but also including going to the same relievers too often.
Macha expressed his concerns after his bullpen had to cover 9 2/3 innings in the first three games against Cincinnati, a trend that began to wear down the relief corps before the All-Star break. Braden Looper went 5 1/3 innings in the series opener, followed by six-inning outings by Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra.
"Let's face facts," said Macha. "We got a great game (Saturday) from Manny and still needed three innings out of the bullpen."
That trend continued Sunday when Yovani Gallardo went just six innings in a 5-3 loss to the Reds. Gallardo left with a 3-3 tie and Cincinnati won on a two-run homer by Johnny Gomes off Seth McClung in the eighth.
Macha has had to cover three and four innings far too often out of his bullpen. The starters have pitched less than six innings 41 times and six innings or more 51 times.
The numbers really go down when you look at starts of at least seven innings. The Brewers' rotation has turned in only 17 of those, led by Gallardo's eight.
The situation worsened when right-hander Dave Bush went on the disabled list with an arm injury. Bush went six or more innings nine of 11 times before being struck by a line drive on June 4 in Florida.
Ater that incident, Bush failed to go six innings in three consecutive starts before a microscopic tear was found in his triceps and he went on the DL.
--Instead of continuing to mix and match players at second base every day, the Brewers went out and got a regular to hold down the fort in Arizona's Felipe Lopez. Milwaukee sent outfielder Cole Gillespie (Class AAA Nashville) and right-handed pitcher Roque Mercedes (Class A Brevard County) to Arizona for Lopez, who's hitting .301 with six home runs and 25 RBIs. "(Lopez) has been a very productive player at the top of the order with respect to both batting average and on-base percentage," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said of Lopez.
The Brewers cleared a 25-man roster spot for Lopez by optioning 3B Mat Gamel to Class AAA Nashville. The prized rookie hit .239 in 48 games with Milwaukee.
Lopez will be a free agent after the season, but the speedy leadoff hitter should be able to solidify the middle infield in Weeks' absence, without hindering Weeks' development when he returns from injury next season.
REDS 5, BREWERS 3: The Brewers continued their trend of losing day games. They are 36-25 when playing at night but only 11-20 in day games. RHP Seth McClung, who surrendered a three-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion in his first outing of the four-game series, was tagged for a two-run homer in the eighth inning by Jonny Gomes to decide the finale. The Brewers, on the other hand, did nothing against the Cincinnati bullpen as Nick Masset, David Weathers and Francisco Cordero each pitched a 1-2-3 inning.
--CF Mike Cameron, who batted in the lower half of the order for most of the season, has been elevated to the No. 2 spot. Manager Ken Macha said he was trying to get "a little more speed" atop his lineup. The Brewers rank next-to-last in the NL with 31 stolen bases.
--3B Mat Gamel started Sunday as manager Ken Macha expressed concern over the ailing knee of 3B Casey McGehee, particularly in the field. McGehee has been slowed by patella tendinitis in his right knee. Gamel was optioned to Class AAA Nashville after the game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11-20 -- The Brewers' record in day games after their 5-3 loss Sunday in Cincinnati.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's disappointing. We've got to do better." -- Infielder Craig Counsell, after the Brewers began the second half by splitting a four-game series in Cincinnati.
--1B Prince Fielder had a home run, double and single Sunday to continue his torrid hitting pace. Over his last 60 games, Fielder is batting .344 (73-for-212) with 19 home runs and 58 RBIs.
--LF Ryan Braun was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Saturday with a sore right thumb. Braun was hit by a pitch from Cincinnati RHP Bronson Arroyo on Friday that struck his lower left forearm and caromed and hit his right thumb, making it difficult to grip the bat.
--RHP Todd Coffey pitched two innings of relief Saturday night sandwiched around a 1-hour, 59-minute rain delay. Coffey pitched a perfect seventh inning, waited out the long stoppage, then pitched a perfect eighth inning. "I felt fine," Coffey said. "I went to the bullpen and played catch (after the delay) and was ready to go."
LF Ryan Braun (sore right thumb) left the July 17 game after being hit by a pitch. He did not play July 18 but returned on July 19.
RHP Dave Bush (minor right biceps tear) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 21. He began a minor league rehab assignment July 10, but he felt arm fatigue after a July 15 start. He will be checked again late in the week of July 20-26.
2B Rickie Weeks (torn tendon sheath in left wrist) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 18, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 14. He had season-ending surgery May 20.
RHP David Riske (right elbow tightness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 10, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 4. He had season-ending Tommy John surgery June 2.