MILWAUKEE — Marco Estrada let out a sigh of exhaustion when asked if Tuesday night’s start was the epitome of battling on the mound.
"You have no idea," Estrada said. "Every inning I battled."
Without his best stuff, Estrada managed to hold the Pittsburgh Pirates to just one run over six innings, battling a high pitch count to do enough to help the Milwaukee Brewers to a 5-2 victory in the series opener at Miller Park.
"It could have been really bad today," Estrada said. "Luckily I had great defense behind me like I always do. I just battled. It was tough, but mentally I was there. I struggled physically making pitches, but mentally I was there. I think that’s what got me through it."
It was evident from the start that Estrada was in for a battle, as he served up a solo home run to Pirates second baseman Neil Walker in the first inning. Estrada worked around a pair of hits in a 22-pitch second inning, but the fourth was the frame that really drove his pitch count up.
Pedro Alvarez worked Estrada for an eight-pitch at-bat before walking and it took the right-hander seven pitches to strike out Jose Tabata. A two-out walk to Jordy Mercer extended the inning before Chris Stewart flew out to end the 27-pitch inning.
Estrada looked like he was done after the fifth inning, sitting at 102 pitches and was set to lead off the bottom half.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had his mind made up to take Estrada up, but the right-hander convinced his skipper to keep him in for the sixth.
"He said he felt good coming off the field," Roenicke said. "Sometimes they do talk me into things. He wanted back out there, and we needed another inning. It’s probably good for him that he knows when he pushes it a little bit that he still can make good pitches."
Estrada rewarded his manager’s faith by working a quick sixth inning to keep the game at 2-1 at the time.
"I don’t know what he was thinking, but I wasn’t going to come out of the game," Estrada said. "I wanted to go back out there. I felt better as the game got going. I really wanted that sixth inning.
"It’s not a good job though. Going six innings and getting out of there is not what I want to do. I want to go deeper into the games. I just have to throw more strikes and be around the plate more."
Facing a talented young pitcher in Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, the Brewers managed to scrape three runs across. Milwaukee added to its 3-1 lead with two runs off reliever Jared Hughes in the seventh inning.
"I like it," Roenicke said of the offense. "I like when we’re getting on base and different guys are doing it through the lineup. I think that’s what we’re going to need to do with Aramis out and Brauny coming back. The other guys are getting on base. We got some big hits today.
"I thought we did a good job of being patient and not chasing a ton today. I think that allowed us to get as many base runners as we did."
Heading out: Brewers left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday with Class-A Brevard County.
The 31-year-old has yet to pitch since undergoing left shoulder surgery in December. Gorzelanny is expected to require the full 30 days on his rehab assignment as he builds his arm strength up to where he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues.
Gorzelanny went 3-6 with a 3.90 ERA with the Brewers last season, but had a 2.70 ERA in 33 appearances out of the bullpen, a role he’ll return to when healthy.