PITTSBURGH (AP) — Zach Davies wanted a shot at becoming the first Milwaukee pitcher in two years to toss a complete game. So with the Brewers nursing a two-run lead heading into the ninth on Sunday in Pittsburgh, Davies went to manager Craig Counsell and pleaded his case.
"I told him that I had it," Davies said. "He thought twice and gave me the opportunity."
It was one of the few missteps Davies made on a day the Brewers desperately needed to give their bullpen a break. Though Davies' bid for going nine full innings for the first time in his career ended when he allowed a leadoff double to Colin Moran in the ninth, he improved to 6-0 when reliever Corbin Burnes wriggled free of a two-on, one out jam to give Milwaukee a 4-2 win.
A day after a marathon 12-10 victory in 13 innings — one that took nearly 5 ½ hours and required six Milwaukee pitchers to lock down — Davies and two relievers needed just 2 hours, 41 minutes to give the Brewers their third win in four games in their first meeting with the Pirates this season.
"You pitch into the eighth inning or the ninth inning on days after extra-inning games, it's just so huge," Counsell said. "They're just really valuable performances. He was awesome today."
The Brewers — who rely on their relievers by design as much as any team in the majors — haven't had a complete game since Jimmy Nelson threw one against San Diego on June 18, 2017. Davies' work on Sunday came on the same day Milwaukee announced Nelson will return to the rotation on Wednesday against Miami, ending a long recovery from right shoulder surgery that cut short Nelson's breakout season two years ago.
"I remember Jimmy's last one, he was the last guy for us," said Davies, who struck out three and walked one while his ERA rose slightly to 2.20. "You do want to add your name to that list, but at the same time, you want to go out there and have a quality game. When you have the opportunity, then it sinks in."
Pittsburgh had chances. The Pirates led off three innings with doubles and another on a single and a two-base error but managed to get just two runs out of it on a day they went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
"An experienced pitcher staying with his plan, making pitches, using sinker down and away and throwing changeup in some offensive counts, we weren't able to do damage," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Eric Thames hit a two-run homer and an RBI double for Milwaukee. Thames sent a pitch from Jordan Lyles (5-3) into the right-field seats in the third inning, then drove home Keston Hiura with a drive to the left-center gap in the fourth.
"I had Thames in a couple positions where we felt really good and I wasn't able to make pitches from that point on," Lyles said.
Lyles has been one of the few constants in Pittsburgh's injury-riddled starting rotation. He made his 11th start of the season as scheduled five days after exiting a loss to Cincinnati with discomfort in his left hamstring.
While Lyles stressed the hamstring was not an issue, he allowed at least one base runner in five of his six innings and Thames pounced on his mistakes. Thames' seventh home run of the season just cleared the 21-foot high Clemente Wall in right field to put Milwaukee in front 3-0. An inning later Thames sent a liner that rolled to the notch in left-center, giving Hiura time to score all the way from first.
It was all the support Davies would need. Kevin Newman hit a sacrifice fly in the third to put Pittsburgh on the board and Bell added an RBI groundout but otherwise the Pirates did little. Lyles, a teammate of Davies' last season while working out of Milwaukee's bullpen, admired Davies' work even as he couldn't quite match it.
"He fills up the strike zone," Lyles said. "He did his job today, did it really well. He's one of the best pitchers in the National League this year for a reason."
Pittsburgh put two runners on in the ninth thanks to Moran's double and a catcher's interference call against Manny Piña — his second of the day. But Burnes entered and struck out pinch-hitter Elias Diaz before getting Newman to ground out to second to wrap up his first save of the season and second of his career.