Preview: Brewers at Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Moxie might not be enough to dig the Pittsburgh Pirates out of their hole in the National League Central, but they are showing a fair amount of it this weekend against the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers.

The Pirates (45-49) have won the first two contests in the five-game series, including a 7-3 victory Friday, with a doubleheader set for PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

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Overall, the Pirates have won three straight for the first time in more than a month, and they have won five of their last six games.

That still leaves fourth-place Pittsburgh 9 1/2 games behind the Brewers.

“No matter what, you can’t control what’s going to happen. You’ve got to focus on playing better baseball,” said Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova, who is scheduled to start the first game Saturday. “As a player, you see a lot of games left and anything can happen. You’ve got to be able to play better baseball. You don’t worry about anything else because there’s nothing else you can control.”

Milwaukee (55-40) has lost three straight and five of its last seven. The Brewers have struck out 23 times through the first two games of the series. They also will need to evaluate right fielder Eric Thames, who left Friday’s game because of right hamstring tightness.

The doubleheader was scheduled when a June 20 game at PNC Park got rained out.

In the first game Saturday, Milwaukee right-hander Chase Anderson (6-6, 3.81 ERA) is slated to face Nova (5-6, 4.50).

In the second game, Brewers left-hander Brent Suter (8-5, 4.53) will face Pirates righty Clay Holmes (0-1, 7.11).

Anderson is coming off a no-decision Monday, when he gave up one run and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings of what became a 4-3, 10-inning loss at Miami. In fact, he has just one decision — a win June 29 against Cincinnati — in his past four starts.

Anderson is 6-3 with a 3.34 ERA in 12 career starts against the Pirates. In his one start against Pittsburgh this season, Anderson gave up five runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings and took the loss in a 9-0 defeat on May 6.

Suter, meanwhile, is coming off the 10-day disabled list (left forearm tightness) to start the second game for Milwaukee. Like Anderson, Suter’s last start was a no-decision in a 10-inning game. He allowed five runs and nine hits in five innings July 2 as the Brewers came back to beat Minnesota 6-5.

Suter is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in eight career appearances, including three starts, against the Pirates.

He pitched two innings of relief against Pittsburgh on May 4 of this season, allowing one hit and no runs.

The Brewers haven’t had an off day since June 26, and on the eve of this series they traveled after an extra-inning game in Miami and arrived in Pittsburgh around 4 a.m. In the midst of this taxing schedule leading into the All-Star break, Brewers manager Craig Counsell joked about why he pegged Suter for the second half of the doubleheader.

“I thought it would be good to have the guy who works fast in the second game,” he said.

For Pittsburgh, Nova came off a stint on the DL June 10 after being sidelined for a right ring finger strain. He has had just one significant bump since returning, a game when he gave up a club-record five homers against Los Angeles on July 3. He is 3-1 with a 3.72 ERA in six starts on this side of the DL.

Nova is 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA in five career starts against Milwaukee.

Holmes, 25, will be making his second major league start and fourth appearance. His first start came during a down stretch for the Pirates. On the Fourth of July in Los Angeles, the rookie gave up four runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings in a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers.

“There were some challenges there,” said Holmes, whose fastball reached 99 mph. “I had to make good pitches. They made me work.”

Saturday will be his first appearance against the Brewers.