Mere days after the Brewers finished a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park, the Pirates get a chance for payback. The teams will meet again for a four game series beginning Thursday, this time on Pittsburgh's turf at PNC Park.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was impressed, to put it mildly, by his first look at the Brewers, who extended their winning streak to nine games with the three weekend wins -- but Hurdle was not surprised.
"They're healthy. They have a good team," he said. "They took a lot of shots physically last year. For me, it's pretty simple."
The Brewers absorbed a pair of losses to the Cardinals after the Pirates left town, but bounced back to beat St. Louis on Wednesday to retain sole possession of first place in the National League Central. At 11-4, the Brewers own Major League Baseball's best record.
"We just have to keep our momentum going and not let up," Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "That's the most important thing right now -- don't let up."
The pitching matchup is a rematch of Saturday at Miller Park, when neither Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers nor Edinson Volquez figured in the decision, a 3-2 Brewers win. Gallardo allowed two runs on six hits in six innings, and ran his season-opening scoreless streak to 14 2/3 innings before the Pirates scored both their runs in the third inning.
Volquez also allowed only two runs (one earned) and four hits in 6 2/3 quality innings, and owns a 1.29 ERA in his three starts. He has gone at least 5 2/3 innings without giving up more than one earned run in consecutive starts for the first time since 2011, a surge in keeping with the Pirates' growing reputation for rehabilitating pitchers.
Pitching coach Ray Searage may have found a key in the simplest way possible: He has Volquez split his pregame warmup between windup and stretch.
"He took ownership of that approach, and has been taking it into the game with him," Searage said. "It's OK if you're sailing along, but what happens if you get some men on base? You should prepare for that, too, and he has been doing it."
Volquez has already impressed Hurdle.
"Delivery, focus, pitching with a 'quiet' head," the manager said. "Now he goes out and gets after it. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there again as much as anybody."
Brewers: Familiar foes
Gallardo and Friday starter Kyle Lohse are facing the Pirates in consecutive starts, and were asked whether that requires any adjustments. Lohse shrugged.
"You've got different stuff every day," he said.
Added Gallardo: "You have to execute. The hitters know us and they know what we throw, what we like to do. You just have to make pitches. Obviously, everything isn't going to be working the same every time out."
Both Brewers starters could live with a repeat of their results. A day after Gallardo delivered his quality start against the Pirates, Lohse needed only 100 pitches for 8 2/3 innings of a 4-1 win, with reliever Will Smith recording a one-out save.
Pirates: Tabata suffers mild concussion
Pirates left fielder Jose Tabata, a .340 hitter against current Brewers pitchers (but only .211, 4-for-19, against Gallardo) was removed from Wednesday's game against the Reds after making a spectacular fifth-inning catch and slamming into the left-field wall of Great American Ball Park. Tabata, who was replaced by Starling Marte, was diagnosed with mild concussion-like symptoms. He will undergo further testing in Pittsburgh.
• The Pirates won seven of their 10 games against the Brewers at PNC Park last season.
• With a perfect eighth inning Wednesday against the Cardinals, Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg has retired 20 consecutive batters over his last six outings.
• Former Pirate Aramis Ramirez is 10-for-13 with runners in scoring position for the Brewers this season. He leads Milwaukee with 13 RBIs.