MILWAUKEE – Mike Fiers is happy to be pitching in the big leagues again in the middle of a pennant race, and he’s not afraid to get a little emotional on the mound.
Fiers extended his successful run since being called up from Triple-A, winning his fourth straight start after holding the Pittsburgh Pirates to two hits in seven innings in a 4-3 win Sunday.
Approaching 100 pitches near the end of the seventh, Fiers yelled and pumped his right arm as he exited the mound after Pedro Alvarez lined to short for the third out.
“I knew that was probably going to be my last inning,” Fiers said. “I’m just so pumped up to be up here and contribute to this team.”
That might be an understatement – the lanky right-hander has a 1.29 ERA in 28 innings in four outings since replacing the injured Matt Garza in the rotation. Fiers has 32 strikeouts to just four walks in that span.
On Sunday, Fiers (4-1) fanned seven to help Milwaukee avoid a three-game sweep. He allowed Starling Marte’s two-run shot in the second before retiring 16 of the next 17 batters.
“It has been incredibly impressive,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “I don’t think anybody foresaw him coming up and being the best pitcher in baseball the last four starts.”
Closer Francisco Rodriguez gave up a homer to Andrew McCutchen with one in the ninth. Rodriguez put the tying run aboard with two outs with a walk before striking out Alvarez for his 39th save.
Milwaukee knocked around Vance Worley (5-4) for four runs over the first two innings, with each hit coming with two outs. Pittsburgh had its three-game winning streak snapped and dropped to five back in the NL Central.
“Back-to-back innings, I haven’t seen it very often, with two outs, nobody on, four straight hits,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And again it goes back to rhythm. I think his (delivery) angle.”
Worley settled down after the first two innings, retiring 13 of 15 until leaving with one out in the seventh.
Jonathan Lucroy hit his National League-leading 43rd double for the Brewers, who snapped a three-game losing streak to increase their lead in the Central to 11/2 games over second-place St. Louis.
Lucroy singled home a run in the second after Carlos Gomez reached on a two-out double to left-center that glanced off McCutchen’s glove. Aramis Ramirez followed two batters later with his second single of the day to drive home Lucroy for a 4-2 lead.
The Pirates had tied it at 2 in the top of the second after Marte homered on to the concourse above left-center. Fiers allowed just Russell Martin’s single in the fourth from there, getting out of that inning with a pretty over-the-shoulder catch with two outs by shortstop Elian Herrera in shallow center to save a potential hit.
The 6-foot-2 Fiers’ fastball tops only at about 90 mph, but his motion can be a little tough. When Fiers winds up, he raises his glove hand high in the air while rearing his throwing arm back from near the waist. Then Fiers swings the arm around from an nearly an over-the-top angle to deliver the pitch.
“It’s all about location. Downhill angle, number one weapon that he’s got,” Hurdle said. “That size, he gets on top of the ball with downhill angle.”
PIRATES: INF Clint Barmes could rejoin the team during a three-game series against St. Louis, which starts today in Pittsburgh. Barmes has been on the disabled list since July 6 with strained left groin.
BREWERS: Garza, who was supposed to throw a light bullpen session Sunday, is recovering from a strained rib cage muscle. Manager Ron Roenicke said Garza will throw again Tuesday if Sunday’s bullpen outing went well. Garza went on the disabled list Aug. 5.
PIRATES: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-10) will try to rebound from a tough outing when he opens the Cardinals series. He gave up nine runs in four-plus innings in an 11-3 loss last week to Atlanta.
BREWERS: RHP Kyle Lohse (11-7) returns to the rotation to open a three-game series in San Diego. Lohse hasn’t started since Aug. 13 because of a right ankle injury.