Longballs lead Brewers past Pirates, 8-5

Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado tags out Pittsburgh's Starling Marte at home early in Saturday's contest at Miller Park.  

Morry Gash/AP

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers’ ugly first half is history. The second half looks better already.

Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez and Khris Davis homered as the Brewers took full advantage of a late lineup change to rally past the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-5 on Saturday night.

"No matter who we beat, a win’s a win. We could get on a nice little roll and make it interesting," Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson said. "Everybody’s got the right mindset in here. It was a tough first half. But that was the first half. We’ve flushed that with the All-Star break and started off pretty good."

Indeed, with two wins against a Pirates team that surged into the break.

Pittsburgh left-hander Francisco Liriano was scratched about 20 minutes before the game began due to neck stiffness after a bad night of sleep on Friday. Sudden starter Vance Worley (3-5) gave up five runs — all with two outs — in four innings.

"Five minutes before the anthem," Worley said of his notice that he would start. "I just pulled my hoodie off, jogged out to the pen and got loose."

Milwaukee shuffled its lineup, too, inserting Gerardo Parra and Scooter Gennett. Both responded with strong games instead of expected days off had a left-hander been on the mound.

Gennett said the last time he expected to have a day off and didn’t was four years ago in Single-A due to a teammate’s pregame injury.

"I have to be ready at all times. Whenever I’m not in the lineup, I still prepare like I’m playing," Gennett said. "It’s so important to keep your emotions even."

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Parra continued to increase his value before the trade deadline with a single and a 10-pitch walk just before Lucroy’s homer into the left-field bleachers in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Gennett’s three-week trip to Triple-A Colorado Springs continues paying dividends with three more hits. He drove in the tying run in the third following an error by Jordy Mercer and is batting .320 (32 for 100) since being recalled on June 11.

"On a personal level, I’ve grown, matured," Gennett said.

Nelson (7-9) fell into a 3-0 hole before recording an out, but sparked Milwaukee’s rally with a two-run single in the second.

Lucroy hit a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fourth. Ramirez had three hits, including a homer in the fifth, and Davis added a pinch-hit blast in the seventh. Davis had been in the original lineup, but forced to sit with the pitching change.

Francisco Rodriguez converted his 21st save in as many tries.

Nelson trailed 2-0 after three pitches following consecutive singles, the second featuring a two-base error on a misplay by center fielder Carlos Gomez, and a wild pitch.

The Pirates tried to be aggressive leading 3-0 with the bases loaded and no one out, but it cost them an even bigger inning.

Starling Marte was cut down at the plate trying to score on Francisco Cervelli’s shallow fly to right fielder Ryan Braun, and Nelson didn’t allow another run until the seventh.

"I gave them a Knute Rockne speech," Brewers manager Craig Counsell deadpanned about what he told the team after the first inning. "No, the throw by Braun, I thought that gave us some energy. . It was bases loaded. We were down three, nobody out. It didn’t start out well, but we came out of it feeling pretty good, actually."

UNLUCKY LIRIANO

Liriano said he woke up Saturday morning with a stiff neck.

"When I was warming up. I was trying to throw and I couldn’t throw," Liriano said. "I’ve had it a couple of times, just when I sleep the wrong way. It’s a very stiff neck. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow."

TURN BACK THE CLOCK

The teams wore throwback jerseys as part of Milwaukee’s annual Negro League tribute game. The Brewers donned uniforms of the 1923 Bears. The Pirates wore jerseys from the Pittsburgh Crawfords (1931-38).

TRAINER’S ROOM

Brewers righty Wily Peralta will make one more rehab start next week before the team expects him to return. Peralta has been the 15-day DL (strained left oblique) since May 25.

UP NEXT

Pirates lefty Jeff Locke (5-5, 4.03 ERA) tries to avoid the sweep Sunday.

Brewers youngster Taylor Jungmann (4-1, 2.15 ERA) gets a second chance to make a dominant impression. Jungmann allowed one run in seven innings in his ML debut in Pittsburgh on June 9.