MLB

Walker homers, Pirates retake NL Central lead

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MILWAUKEE (AP)

Tyler Thornburg is making a case for a permanent spot in the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation.

The 24-year-old right-hander allowed two runs and six hits in six innings while striking out three and walking four in a spot-start for the Brewers.

Despite the strong outing, Thornburg (1-1) took the loss as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat Milwaukee 5-2 Monday to recapture the NL Central lead.

''I felt pretty good going out there. The changeup was really good today so we stuck with it for a while,'' Thornburg said. ''I'm definitely happy any time you can give your team an opportunity to win a ball game. I can't complain.''

Controlling his off-speed pitches has been important to his success, he added.

''Any time you don't have your off-speed stuff working hitters can just sit on fastballs. Fortunately, for me lately I've been able to get everything over for strikes and keep them off the fastball.''

Thornburg has allowed a total of three earned runs in four starts this season. He logged an inning of scoreless of relief on Friday before being called on to start Monday. His last start came on Aug. 14 when he gave up one earned run in six innings against the Texas Rangers.

''I liked what he did. He made some really big pitches when he needed to,'' Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. ''He got some guys on base and got behind in the count some, but when he needed to make a pitch it was there. I thought his fastball was good all game. It was a nice job by him.''

Thornburg has found success as a starter at the major league level this season despite struggling mightily while in the minors earlier this year. Thornburg was 0-9 with a 5.79 over 15 starts at Triple-A Nashville this season.

Thornburg said he's comfortable as a starter but will take on whatever role the Brewers assign him.

''I wouldn't say I'm more comfortable (starting). It's just what I'm used to. I'm sure if I'm in the bullpen for two or three years, I'm sure I'll get comfortable with that,'' Thornburg said.

Neil Walker hit a three-run homer and Charlie Morton pitched seven strong innings as the Pirates moved one game ahead of St. Louis, which lost earlier in the day at Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won the opener of a nine-game road trip.

Walker broke it open with his homer in the seventh for a 5-1 lead. Jose Tabata added three hits, including a pair of run-scoring singles.

Morton won his fourth consecutive decision, a career best, pitching seven strong innings.

''I was executing pitches and going out and trying to attack guys,'' Morton said. ''I was able to throw different pitches in the zone.''

Morton (7-3) gave up seven hits and one earned run. He walked two and struck out six while winning his fourth straight decision. He added a base hit, his first two sacrifice bunts of the season and scored a run.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Morton turned in a ''blue-collar effort'' for his club, which improved to 23 games over .500 and is now just one win away from breaking a two-decade long streak of losing seasons.

''Charlie has gotten to a very good place,'' Hurdle said. ''He was efficient but he had to work today except for the sixth, when he blew them away.''

Morton has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last five starts, going 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA and is 6-1 with a 2.90 ERA since the All-Star break.

''We lacked the big hits but you've got a big pitcher out there,'' Roenicke said. ''(Morton) is really good. He throws a great sinker and pounds the right-handers in with it. It's always down in the zone. He's got a good curveball and a good changeup. That's a really nice pitcher they have.''

The Pirates, who have added John Buck, Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd in recent trades, present a formidable lineup at the plate, as well, Thornburg said.

''When I was going over the scouting report on them I noticed how much different it was than when I threw five innings of relief against them (earlier),'' he said. ''They have a lot more depth up and down the lineup. They've made some additions. It's going to make it tough on pitchers.''

NOTES: The victory gave the Pirates three consecutive wins in Milwaukee for the first time since 2004. ... Milwaukee's Jean Segura stole his league-leading 39th base in the fifth. ... Brewers relief pitcher Tom Gorzelanny left the game with tightness in his left shoulder after throwing just two pitches. ... Michael Blazek, acquired by Milwaukee on Sunday from St. Louis as the player to be named in a deal that sent relief pitcher John Axford to the Cardinals, pitched a scoreless inning of relief. ... Thornburg made his fourth start of the season and first since Aug. 14.

Tagged: Brewers, Pirates, Cardinals, Charlie Morton

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