Brewers drop series-opening game in Pittsburgh, 4-2

PITTSBURGH — By his own admission, it used to take Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco a day — sometimes more — to get over a mental mistake like his goof last week against St. Louis, when Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina picked a lackadaisical Polanco off third base to thwart a rally.

Not anymore. These days, Polanco moves on quickly, trying to keep one mental lapse from bleeding into another.

The proof is in the batter’s box — and in the field — for Polanco and the surging Pirates. The right fielder doubled twice, drove in two runs and threw out a potential go-ahead run at the plate to lead Pittsburgh to a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night.

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“We’re fighting man, we’re fighting,” Polanco said. “The second half is really good for us.”

Polanco finished 4 for 4 and is hitting .446 this month. Francisco Cervelli added two hits for the Pirates, who pulled within six games of the first-place Brewers.

Pittsburgh pointed to a post All-Star break homestand against St. Louis and Milwaukee as a chance to finally make inroads in a crowded but unexceptional Central Division race. Outfielder Starling Marte returns from an 80-game performance-enhancing drugs suspension on Tuesday, and he’ll join a team that’s playing its best baseball of the season thanks in large part to the resurgent Polanco.

The outfielder has raised his average from .237 on July 1 to .269 as the Pirates have clawed their way to 45-48, the closest they’ve been to .500 since early May. Daniel Hudson (2-4) earned the win thanks to Polanco’s fifth outfield assist of the year. Felipe Rivero got four outs for his seventh save.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” Polanco said. “I feel pretty good because I’m healthy now. I feel strong. I feel my hands are quick so I can see the ball.”

He can throw it, too. Polanco nailed Milwaukee’s Manny Pina at the plate to end the sixth, and then in the bottom of the inning put the Pirates ahead with a hustle double to second base that scored Josh Bell. Polanco’s sprint was in stark contrast to what happened last Friday against St. Louis, when a triple turned into a double when he jogged out of the box thinking he’d hit a home run. He later compounded the problem when Molina caught Polanco daydreaming off third base.

A year or two ago, the 25-year-old Polanco might have beat himself up thinking about it. Those days are over.

“When it happened, it happened,” he said. “After that, you can’t do anything. Just move forward and pay attention.”

Travis Shaw, Eric Thames and Orlando Arcia had two hits each for the Brewers, who have lost consecutive games for the first time this month. Milwaukee left 11 men on base.

“Both sides pitched out of some jams, both sides threw a guy out at the plate,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “So, it was a good ballgame. We got some rallies going and bases loaded a couple times. That last hit wasn’t there.”

SCARY COLLISION

Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt left the game in the fifth inning after a collision with Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl at the plate.

Vogt caught an incidental elbow to the head from Kuhl, and both players were down for several minutes. Kuhl remained in the game, but Vogt had to be helped to his feet and left to be evaluated for a neck strain and left knee strain. Vogt held onto the ball and Kuhl was called out.

“I wanted to do a hook slide and touch home plate, but as soon as he caught it, he kind of came into my running lane and it just happened like that,” said Kuhl, who remained in the game despite some pain in his left (non-throwing) arm.

Counsell said Vogt’s neck appears to be fine and it’s the knee that is the bigger concern. Vogt will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Brewers: 2B Eric Sogard tested his sprained left ankle by running in the outfield on Monday and is hopeful he can head out for a rehab assignment later this week. Sogard, who hasn’t played since July 4, received a cortisone injection on the ankle last Friday.

UP NEXT

Brewers: Junior Guerra (1-3, 4.78 ERA) returns from the 10-day disabled list (right shin contusion) to face the Pirates for the second time this season. Guerra is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA in five games against Pittsburgh.

Pirates: Ivan Nova (9-6, 3.21) has gone at least six innings in 17 of his 18 starts this season. Nova is 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts versus the Brewers.