PITTSBURGH — Matt Garza can feel himself getting stronger. The evidence is on the radar gun and in his command. At the moment, it’s just not in the results.
The veteran Milwaukee starter gave up five runs, four earned, in five innings of a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night. Garza (1-4) has dropped four straight starts while his ERA has ballooned to 5.94. Not exactly what he had in mind when he worked his way back from a strained right lat that sidelined him for more than two months to start the season.
"I feel horrible because I’m not a five (innings) and done guy," Garza said. "I can go deep. I like to keep pitching."
Garza’s major mistake came in the first inning, when he issued consecutive one-out walks to Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen then watched Matt Joyce hit a three-run homer to the seats in right field that gave the Pirates a quick 3-0 lead.
"They say this game is a game of inches," Garza said. "It broke right two inches (and was a) homer. If it breaks left two inches, he jams himself and pops it up."
Garza thinks the miscue overshadowed an otherwise OK performance.
"I’ve been doing it the whole year, searching for my arm strength, searching for my breaking stuff," Garza said. "Tonight, I had it all. I had the curveball, I had a good slider, I had a good changeup, I just waited too long to use it."
Jonathan Villar hit his seventh home run of the season for the Brewers. Hernan Perez added two hits for Milwaukee, which fell to 17-31 away from Miller Park, the second-worst road mark in the National League.
A night after working nine walks and lighting up the Pirates for nine runs in a relatively easy win, the Brewers didn’t earn one free pass and struck out 14 times, 13 against Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano (6-9). Liriano gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings and didn’t issue a walk for only the second time in 19 starts this season.
"I thought Liriano had his plus stuff tonight," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "Getting three runs off him, I thought we did a good job. I thought he had great stuff tonight, he really did. That’s the best we’ve seen him in a while, for sure."
Mark Melancon worked the ninth for his 28th save.
IN A PINCH
Joyce finished with four RBIs. Not bad for a player who didn’t know he was playing until outfielder Starling Marte came down with flu-like symptoms a half-hour before the first pitch.
More Brewers coverage on FOX Sports Wisconsin
"He’s kind of like a fireman, he’s ready to go," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Joyce did his best to cram for Garza — a former teammate when both played in Tampa Bay — but felt a bit rushed heading into the on-deck circle with two on and one out in the first. He took a couple of extra deep breaths to calm down and smacked a pitch from Garza into the seats in right field to put the Pirates up 3-0.
"When they ring the bell, you’ve got to go," Joyce said.
Polanco finished with two hits for the Pirates. McCutchen went 2 for 3 to snap out of a 1-for-16 funk.
Brewers: Pitching prospect Adrian Houser underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm Thursday and will miss at least the next 12 months as he recovers. The 23-year-old, acquired as part of a deal with Houston that sent Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez to the Astros, appeared in two games last September for the Brewers and was 3-7 with a 5.25 ERA in 13 starts for Double-A Biloxi this season.
Pirates: Reliever Ryan Vogelsong voluntarily removed himself from a rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis after four innings of work on Wednesday night due to neck tightness. Vogelsong, who turns 39 on Friday, is recovering from facial fractures after getting hit by a pitch against Colorado on May 23. He is eligible to come off the 60-day DL on Saturday.
Brewers: Open a 10-game homestand on Friday with a three-game set against the Chicago Cubs. Jimmy Nelson (6-7, 3.39 ERA) is coming off his first win in over a month after tossing seven shutout innings against Cincinnati last Saturday.
Pirates: Host cross-state rival Philadelphia for a weekend series beginning Friday. Gerrit Cole (5-5, 3.11 ERA) will make his second start since returning from a stint on the disabled list with a right triceps strain. Cole allowed five runs in four innings in a loss to Washington last Saturday.