The Pittsburgh Pirates ' push for their first playoff appearance in 20 years has slowed considerably.
Given the Pirates' recent history against the Milwaukee Brewers , it's far from a guarantee that will change over the weekend.
Exactly one year after their last meeting at PNC Park, Pittsburgh will try to end a three-game losing streak Friday night when the Brewers go for their fourth win in a row.
Back from a 2-4 trip, the Pirates (67-57) open a six-game homestand with 15 losses in 24 games. They've fallen to third in the NL Central and are in a tight battle with Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles in the wild-card race.
"We know what's at stake every single game," catcher Rod Barajas told the Pirates' official website following Wednesday's 4-2 loss to San Diego. "We're not going to sit here and put extra pressure on ourselves and try to do more than we're capable of doing."
Andrew McCutchen is capable of far more than what he's shown lately. His NL-leading batting average dropped to .349 after going 6 for 29 on the trip.
"I'm a lot better than where I am right now," he said. "... I know it'll change."
Facing the Brewers, who have lost 14 of 15 on the road, could help. The All-Star center fielder is 12 for 24 with four homers and nine RBIs against Milwaukee this season.
The Brewers, though, have held a significant edge in this divisional matchup since 2008, winning 51 of 68 after splitting six games at Miller Park this season.
Starting Friday, these teams will play nine times in 28 days, including three more in Pittsburgh from Sept. 18-20.
"We haven't been there at all this year, which is weird," Brewers slugger Ryan Braun , the NL leader with 34 homers, told the team's official website. "We played them to start the second half, so it doesn't feel too long ago, but it's weird we haven't been to one of the teams in our division yet."
Friday's scheduled starter Mike Fiers (6-6, 2.90 ERA) will get his second look at the Pirates after giving up four runs over five innings in a 6-5 loss June 3.
The rookie right-hander needs a bounce-back performance after posting a 15.43 ERA while losing his last two starts. Fiers had a 1.33 ERA while winning his previous three outings.
"I've heard rumors about limiting my innings (a career-high 142 including the minors) and getting shut down, but I try not to worry about that," Fiers said after walking a season high-tying four in Saturday's 4-3 loss to Philadelphia. "I'm looking forward to my next start. I need to be better."
So does Wandy Rodriguez (8-12, 4.00), who will try to avoid losing a career-high fourth consecutive start. The left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.06 ERA in five appearances since being acquired from Houston on July 24. He threw two innings out of the bullpen Sunday in a 6-3, 19-inning win over the Cardinals.
Rodriguez is 0-6 with a 5.98 ERA in seven starts since his last win, 6-3 over Milwaukee on July 7.
Braun, whose 36 RBIs at PNC Park are his most at any opposing ballpark, is 14 for 36 (.389) with four homers versus Rodriguez. Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez are both batting .370 (17 for 46) against him.
McCutchen has two hits - including a homer - in three at-bats against Fiers.
|July 29, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Sore left wrist|
|July 17, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Right thigh strain|
|June 15, 2012||Shaun Marcum||60-Day DL||Right elbow tightness|
|June 02, 2012||Aramis Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left quadricep|
|May 31, 2012||Ryan Braun||Day-to-Day||Tight Achilles|
|May 28, 2012||Jonathan Lucroy||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand, out 4-6 weeks|
|August 19, 2012||Starling Marte||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|August 15, 2012||Neil Walker||Day-to-Day||Dislocated finger|
|August 14, 2012||Travis Snider||Day-to-Day||Left game - Aggravated right hamstring|
|July 18, 2012||Juan Cruz||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 18, 2012||Juan Cruz||15-Day DL||Right shoulder inflammation|
|July 05, 2012||Alex Presley||7-Day DL||Concussion|
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mike Fiers was more excited about his rally-starting bunt single than he was about pitching effectively into the seventh inning.
Fiers (7-6) tied a career high with 10 strikeouts, Aramis Ramirez had a go-ahead three-run double in the seventh and the Milwaukee Brewers held on to win their fourth consecutive game, 6-5 over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night.
He allowed three runs on five hits in 6 2-3 innings. The rookie's first major-league hit provided the Brewers the first baserunner of what was a four-run Milwaukee seventh.
"Every game, I've been going up there and not hitting the ball," Fiers said, "so I thought I had to try something different. I looked down to third and saw (third baseman Pedro Alvarez ) was playing back and I just wanted to something different than striking out.
"Crazy things happen when pitchers get on base."
Fiers was retired on a fielder's choice, but after Rickie Weeks was hit by a pitch and Ryan Braun walked, Ramirez lined a double deep into the gap in right-center to give the Brewers a 5-2 lead.
"I've always believed my job is to drive in runs," said Ramirez, who was 2 for 4 and scored two runs. "That's why I've always hit in the middle of the lineup. You can hit .300 but if you don't drive in runs then it doesn't really matter."
After his hit, Ramirez scored on a Corey Hart single. Hart went 3 for 4.
The Pirates rallied for two runs in the ninth off of closer John Axford , but Kameron Loe struck out pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez to with two men on to end the game. Loe's save was his second in two weeks, the fourth of his career.
Rod Barajas homered for the floundering Pirates, who have lost four in a row and continue to sink in the NL playoff race.
The Brewers won on the road for only the second time since the All-Star break. They had lost 14 of their previous 15 road games.
Jim Henderson got the final out of the seventh and Francisco Rodriguez worked a perfect eighth, but Axford failed in his attempt to earn a save for the third consecutive Brewers game.
Axford walked Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones before Neil Walker 's RBI single. After Axford struck out Pedro Alvarez and Jeff Clement , pinch hitter Michael McKenry 's single scored Jones. That caused Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke to summon Loe.
"Fortunately, I had a pretty good cushion," Axford said. "I felt fantastic, and the positive I take out of this is I felt better facing the last three hitters than the first three."
Fiers opened the game with three perfect innings, but the first three Pirates of the fourth inning had hits. McCutchen's two-run single scored Jose Tabata and Travis Snider . Barajas' hit his ninth home run with nobody on in the seventh, chasing Fiers from the game.
"It was a really nice outing for him," Roenicke said. "The off-speed pitch was good, the curveball was good and he really kept them off balance."
Milwaukee scored the game's first two runs in the second off of Wandy Rodriguez . After RBI hits by Hart and Jonathan Lucroy , the Brewers loaded the bases with no outs but did not score any more runs.
Rodriguez (8-13) fell to 0-4 as a starter with the Pirates - he earned a win by pitching the 18th and 19th innings Sunday in St. Louis - since being acquired for three prospects in a trade with Houston July 24.
Rodriguez allowed three runs on six hits and four walks in 6 2-3 innings. He had three strikeouts.
"I felt pretty good tonight," Rodriguez said. "I had better location this start because my last start I missed a lot on my location. Today I felt more control with my location."
Barajas went 2 for 3 and has four hits over his past two starts.
Pittsburgh fell two games behind St. Louis in the race for the NL's second wild card spot. The Pirates have lost 14 of their past 21.
Notes: McCutchen was slow to get up and was attended to by a trainer for several minutes after sliding into the wall in right-center making a running effort to catch Ramirez's double. McCutchen remained in the game. ... Earlier Friday, the Pirates selected the contract of first baseman Clement from Triple-A Indianapolis and optioned INF Yamaico Navarro to the minors. Clement's appearance was his first in the majors since Aug. 20, 2010. ... Also Friday, Pittsburgh claimed LHP Hisanori Takahashi off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels . A corresponding roster move will be made when Takahashi reports to the team. ... The Brewers activated RHP Shaun Marcum from the disabled list Friday. He will make his first start since June 14 on Saturday. RHP Jeff Karstens is scheduled to start for the Pirates. Karstens is 0-5 in his career against Milwaukee.