MILWAUKEE -- Jonathan Lucroy was out of the lineup Saturday, as Milwaukee general manager David Stearns made progress toward a trade. Ryan Braun was a late scratch with continued tightness in his right side. But this was a Pirates-Brewers game at Miller Park, and those almost always end the same way.
Unheralded Hernan Perez took Braun's place in the three-hole and delivered three hits and three RBIs in a 5-3 win over the Pirates at Miller Park. Perez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered, and Nieuwenhuis made a pair of highlight-reel throws from right field to help the the Brewers improve to 102-56 against the Pirates since the start of the 2007 season, including a remarkable 63-17 in Milwaukee. The Brewers have won each of the teams' last eight matchups here.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell said the decision to scratch Braun came after "it didn't go well in batting practice." Braun has missed three straight games, and Perez has batted third and homered in two of those games, including his two-run shot in the first inning Saturday against Jameson Taillon.
"He's kind of the definition of an improving player to me, and it's been fun to watch," Counsell said. "To be able to slip into that spot in the lineup and still produce and not do anything different, that says something, for sure."
Gregory Polanco hit a solo home run in the eighth inning and Jordy Mercer blooped an RBI single in the ninth as Pittsburgh kept it close, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs in the ninth against Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress. He retired Sean Rodriguez on a game-ending flyout for save No. 26, sealing Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson's second straight victory.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Run prevention: The Pirates cut the Brewers' lead to 2-1 on Jung Ho Kang's single in the fourth inning, but the Brewers limited the damage by converting two critical outs on the bases. First, Starling Marte was an easy out between second and third trying to take an extra base on Kang's run-scoring hit. Kang was then out at home after running through a stop sign in an effort to score on Josh Harrison's single to right field. Nieuwenhuis made an on-target throw to catcher Martin Maldonado, who stepped in front of home plate to avoid a short hop, then dove back to tag Kang before he could score.
"[Third-base coach Rick Sofield] was holding him up. Jung Ho went. I was good either way," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You've got to press a throw. We haven't been doing much on offense. I can understand Rick holding him up. … Either way, the guys made a good play, a good throw and a tag to get us."
Said Counsell: "I thought 'Maldy' made a great tag and a diving tag; he did a nice job going right to where the runner wants to go -- that back corner -- and made the runner adjust. He goes to that front corner, [Kang] might be safe."
No walks to remember: Taillon put together his fourth straight quality and walk-free start, holding the Brewers to two runs on six hits while striking out six over six innings. The rookie right-hander has thrown exactly six innings in each of his four outings since June 24 and has not walked a single batter during that stretch. Taillon has racked up 37 strikeouts and only five walks this season.
"We're happy with the performance. He's a focused young man," Hurdle said. "He's been aggressive in attacking the zone, and that always helps."
No longer left out:Scooter Gennett entered this season with a .297 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 119 plate appearances, but those struggles are no more. His RBI single in the seventh inning against Jonathon Niese boosted Gennett to 18-for-64 (.281) against lefties this season, driving up an OPS against them that stood at .806 entering the day.
Outfield in, batter out: Taillon hit into a rare 9-3 out in the fifth inning. The Pirates pitcher lined a would-be single into right field off Anderson, but Nieuwenhuis, playing shallow, picked up the ball and fired it to first baseman Chris Carter in time to force out Taillon.
"I saw Carter at first kind of turn around and act like it was a regular hit. When I saw that, I was just striding," said Taillon, still waiting for his first Major League hit. "Next thing I knew, I was hosed at first. He made a good play on it. I watched the video. He made a good throw. But yeah, I would have loved to have had that."
"I used to be a little chunky when I was real young, so they're saying it reminds them of watching me play when I was little." -- Taillon, on his siblings' reaction to him getting thrown out at first base
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Sunday marks the end of the Brewers' 10-day homestand, which is bad news for Nieuwenhuis. His solo home run in the eighth inning was Nieuwenhuis' fifth of the homestand and ninth at Miller Park this season. He's a .311 hitter in home games, versus .116 with one home run on the road.
CERVELLI BACK BEHIND THE PLATE
Less than 24 hours after thinking his foot was broken, Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli was back in the starting lineup. Cervelli caught Saturday despite leaving Friday night's game early after being hit in the instep of his right foot by a deflected pitch from reliever Juan Nicasio. Cervelli left the field without putting any pressure on the injured foot.
Cervelli had X-rays performed on Friday night, but they came back negative and he felt better after undergoing treatment. Nicasio's pitch bounced off Gennett and hit Cervelli in the same spot a Wei-Yin Chen pitch plunked him earlier this season.
"In the moment, I thought it was broken. It hurt," Cervelli said. "We don't have time to mess around. We've got to make it happen."
Pirates first baseman David Freese was ejected after the fifth inning for arguing with home-plate umpire Marty Foster. Freese struck out swinging to end the fifth, but his first two strikes were called by Foster. It was Freese's first ejection of the season. John Jaso replaced Freese at first base, batting leadoff, to begin the sixth inning.
"I think there was a discussion about balls and strikes," Hurdle said. "It gets to the point where the umpires don't want to have any discussion. It's not something you get away with very long when you do it."
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Left-hander Francisco Liriano will start the Pirates' series finale against the Brewers at Miller Park at 2:10 p.m. ET, looking to repeat the success he had in his last start against Milwaukee, not the struggles he experienced Tuesday against Seattle. Liriano struck out 13 without a walk against the Brewers on July 21, but followed up that gem by allowing seven runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Mariners.
Brewers: Opponents are hitting .316 against Matt Garza entering the right-hander's start in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. CT series finale. This will be his ninth start since a season-opening stint on the disabled list for a lat strain, and his 11th career start against the Pirates (2-4, 4.61 ERA in those games).