PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates flailed helplessly at Jimmy Nelson’s curveball last weekend, striking out nine times in a lopsided loss in Milwaukee.
With a rematch looming Friday, manager Clint Hurdle ordered his players to spend a little more time in the batting cage while the pitching machine tried to replicate Nelson’s sweeping breaking ball.
"Today was a day we were out there early in the afternoon," Hurdle said. "It gave us a better idea of what we would be getting."
Looked like it.
Gregory Polanco went 3 for 4, Starling Marte added two hits — including a long two-run homer off Jonathan Broxton in the eighth — and Pittsburgh rolled to a 6-3 win. The Pirates came in with the lowest team batting average in the National League (.207) but pounded out 11 hits and even managed their first walks since last Saturday.
"We did a better job situationally," Hurdle said. "We had some two-out hits as well. It was a good night to get some momentum on that side of the ball."
The Pirates have sputtered during the opening 10 days of the season as the offense that was supposed to be a strength has slouched out of the gate. Pittsburgh came in with the second-worst team batting average in the majors and managed just five hits total in back-to-back shutout losses to Detroit.
Hurdle shuffled the lineup a bit, moving Andrew McCutchen from third to cleanup. McCutchen drove in a run on a groundout in the fourth to end a 22-inning scoreless streak.
But the real damage off Nelson (1-1) came in the fifth. Marte led off with an infield single, stole second then scored on Sean Rodriguez base hit. Rodriguez followed suit, swiping second and then scoring on two-out single to left by Josh Harrison to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead that Vance Worley (1-1) and four relievers would not relinquish.
Worley, who was tagged for six runs by the Brewers in his last start, gave up just two in six effective innings. He struck out six, walked four and wriggled out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth, when Ryan Braun hit into an inning-ending double play.
"They were aggressive up there and I made sure I kept them more off balance," Worley said. "And when they started looking to hit the pitches I was throwing, I went back to what I used to do."
Polanco singled with one out in the ninth, stole second, moved to third on a throwing error and scored on a single by Pedro Alvarez through a drawn-in infield that made it 4-2 before Marte hit a 451-shot to the second deck in left against Broxton. The Brewers pulled within three in the ninth before closer Mark Melancon got the final out for his first save of the year.
Khris Davis had his sixth career three-hit game for the Brewers, who have lost three in a row. Milwaukee left eight men on base and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
"We get those guys out there and we’re not picking them up.," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "They get their guys out there and they’re picking them up and that’s the ballgame."
Trainer’s room: All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez’s strained right hamstring landed him on the disabled list. Gomez left Wednesday’s game in St. Louis with the injury and returned to Milwaukee to be examined. The leadoff hitter was batting .235 with a homer and six RBI in eight games. Utility man Jason Rogers was recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Up next: Kyle Lohse looks to bounce back from a rare poor start against the Pirates when he faces Pittsburgh on Saturday. Lohse is 11-4 with a 3.81 ERA but was knocked around in a 10-2 loss last Sunday, giving up four runs in 6 1/3 innings.