The Pittsburgh Pirates got their offense going in the opener of a four-game set with Milwaukee after looking dreadful at the plate while being swept by the Brewers over the weekend.
The pitcher who contributed the most to those struggles was Kyle Lohse.
Five days after coming within an out of a complete game, Lohse will try to pick up where he left off against the Pirates on Friday night at PNC Park.
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Pittsburgh (8-8) hit .178, walked just four times and totaled five runs while being swept in three at Miller Park last weekend, and it was shut out while recording three hits in Cincinnati just before beginning this eight-game homestand.
The Pirates pounded out 12 hits Thursday, nine of which came in the seventh and eighth innings. Andrew McCutchen’s two-run, first-inning homer was the only damage Pittsburgh did off Yovani Gallardo, but Josh Harrison’s two-run blast in the seventh broke a 2-all tie and Pedro Alvarez and Gaby Sanchez went deep in a six-run eighth en route to an 11-2 win over the Brewers (11-5).
The Pirates came into the night with 19 homers, 15 of which were solo shots, but three of the four Thursday came with men on – including Alvarez’s three-run shot. They now lead the NL with 23 – 13 more than they had through 16 games a year ago.
"It’s good to know you can strike quickly but we need to hit a few more with men on base like we did tonight rather than just solos," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh didn’t get many men on base against Lohse (2-1, 3.05 ERA) in Sunday’s 4-1 loss. The right-hander held the Pirates to four singles without a walk and struck out nine before Will Smith came on to record the final out.
"He kept us off balance with his off-speed stuff. He was commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate," catcher Tony Sanchez said. "He mixed in a changeup to righties extremely well, which you don’t see very often. He had four pitches working."
Opposing Lohse – just as he did Sunday – will be Charlie Morton (0-1, 3.32). The right-hander gave up four runs over seven innings, but two of those were unearned due to Tony Sanchez’s throwing error.
"Charlie pitched a really good game (Sunday)," Hurdle said. "A couple of balls that he got up got hammered. We didn’t do as good a job as them on the offensive side."
Morton hasn’t left much in the zone at home recently, going 2-0 with a 1.82 ERA in his last six regular-season starts at PNC – including six shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs there April 2.
Ryan Braun had a double off Morton on Sunday and is now 7 for 15 with a homer and three walks in their matchups.
Starling Marte set the tone Thursday with two hits, a walk and two stolen bases, bumping his average to .424 with seven walks in Pittsburgh’s victories this season. The Pirates’ leadoff hitter is 3 for 31 with 13 strikeouts and no walks in the eight losses.
It might not be Marte or any of the four Pirates to homer Thursday that Lohse needs to worry about most. Neil Walker is 10 for 27 with seven walks against Lohse and Jose Tabata 14 for 30.