MILWAUKEE — Jonathan Lucroy is finally getting locked in at the plate.
It took a while for the Milwaukee Brewers catcher after he was sidelined for more than a month earlier this season with a broken toe.
Lucroy drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak to a career high-tying 10 games as Milwaukee beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the fifth straight time, 9-4 on Wednesday night.
"I wish I could put my finger on it, but sometimes when … your eyes and your hands and body (work) together, and things click and all of a sudden you start feeling it, you just try to repeat it as much you can," Lucroy said.
A career .281 hitter, Lucroy was scuffling into mid-August with his average dipping to .235.
Then the hits started falling.
Lucroy is batting .450 (18 for 40) with three homers and 14 RBI during his hitting streak.
Jeff Locke (7-9) was tagged for five runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. Locke had a 2.53 ERA in three previous starts this year against Milwaukee.
A poor August, in which Locke had a 5.46 ERA, extended into his first start in September. This is not the kind of outing that the Pirates need in a playoff race.
"You don’t take the mound saying, ‘Gee, this could be the last one,’" Locke said when asked if his job was in jeopardy. "You go out there and try to win the game for your team."
The fourth-place Brewers have won seven of their last eight against Pittsburgh, which leads the NL wild-card race.
Adam Lind homered, singled and drove in two runs for Milwaukee.
Some of the loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Lucroy after his two-out, two-run single in the fourth snapped a 3-all tie and chased Locke. The fans serenaded him with a cry of "Luuuuc" after he reached first base.
Pitching coach Ray Searage visited the mound before Lucroy’s at-bat. The plan was to go the bullpen if Locke walked Lucroy.
"We gave him Lucroy. That’s a decision I make," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Lucroy, Lind and Scooter Gennett combined for five two-out RBIs. Manager Craig Counsell loves the approach of his team at the plate, where they have struggled for stretches.
"I just think it’s a product of good at-bats. Two outs, two strikes, putting the ball in play. I think we’re doing a really good job of that right now," Counsell said.
Former Brewers star Aramis Ramirez drove in all four runs for the Pirates, including a three-run homer in the fourth.
Ramirez added an RBI double in the fifth in his first series at Miller Park since being dealt to Pittsburgh in late July.
Ramirez homered for the second straight night, though the applause from the still-appreciative Milwaukee crowd wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the ovation he received Tuesday.
ON THE MOUND
Reliever Jeremy Jeffress (4-0) picked up the win after being perfect in the seventh and eighth innings. He came in with a 6-4 lead and was awarded the victory — starter Zach Davies lasted only 4 1/3 innings in his big-league debut.
Davies cruised through his first three innings before struggling the second time through the Pirates order.
Next time, Davies said he’s going to be a little more aggressive on the mound.
"Throwing pitches a little off, a little low, making sure I’m going after them and that I know I’m confident in my pitches," he said.
Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano (9-6) is 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 17 starts since giving up a season-high seven runs on May 19, against Minnesota. He is 6-5 with a 4.06 ERA in 14 career games against Milwaukee.
Brewers youngster Taylor Jungmann (8-5) has been one of the top rookie starters in the league since making his debut on June 9 at Pittsburgh, when he gave up three hits and struck out five in a 4-1 win. Opponents are batting .227 against him this season.