Andrew McCutchen also scored two runs, and Neil Walker drove in two runs in the sixth inning with the bases loaded to give the Pirates (23-17) pitchers all the runs they would need.
Rodriguez’s start against Milwaukee was his first against the Brewers (16-22) since he gave up seven runs on six hits in just three and two-thirds innings on April 29. Wednesday, Rodriguez (4-2) worked seven innings and allowed just one run on six hits, a walk, and struck out five in an effort that lowered his earned run average to 3.25.
“The key was that I used a lot of change-ups this time and the last time I didn’t throw that many change-ups,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter.
The only blemish on Rodriguez’s outing came in the seventh inning when Rickie Weeks hit a home run on the first pitch he saw from Rodriguez to the left-field bleachers. But in the earlier goings, the Brewers put men in scoring position in each of the first four innings.
Milwaukee’s most serious threat early on came when Jonathan Lucroy tripled to right-center leading off the fourth, putting a man on third with no outs. But Rodriguez got Carlos Gomez and Weeks to pop out and Alex Gonzalez to ground out and negate the scoring chance—a sequence manager Clint Hurdle said gave the Pirates confidence.
“Not letting them score in the fourth, I thought we gained some momentum right there,” Hurdle said. “Even though we weren’t doing much, I think that was a feel-good for us coming off the field.”
With Rodriguez’s start overall, Hurdle believed his starter put the Pirates in the best position he could against Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo who entered Wednesday with a career record of 10-2 against Pittsburgh.
“He picked it up and laid it down for us, he battled from start to finish,” Hurdle said. “Good three-pitch mix, the curveball, the change-up, the fastball to both sides. He was very aggressive…It’s the start we needed, he pitched a little bit better than their guy and their guy was pretty good.”
Gallardo (3-3) did not last as long as Rodriguez, pitching six innings and allowing two runs on three hits and four walks as he took the loss.
But the Pirates would not have been able to win without the clutch at-bat from Walker.
“Our first hit with runners in scoring position in two nights, very timely from Neil,” Hurdle said.
Walker’s base hit raised his average with the bases loaded to .500 in his career hitting of 17-for-34 in such situations. The runs driven in gave Walker his first RBIs since mid-April.
“Two great at-bats by Cutch and Gaby, and I was able to take advantage of a pitch over the plate,” Walker said. “I think from my standpoint, I always seem to feel a little more comfortable with guys in scoring position and guys on base for whatever reason. I think I do a better job of just simplifying things in my own approach.”
Walker’s single was his only hit of the game, but gave the Pirates the offense they needed on a night when hits were hard to come by for both teams. Pittsburgh did add an insurance run in the eighth when McCutchen scored on an error by Weeks.
Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli worked perfect eighth and ninth innings out of the bullpen, respectively, to seal the victory and run Pittsburgh’s record to 17-0 when leading after seven innings. Grilli picked up save no. 16 of the season, tying him for the major league lead with all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.
“It was just another one of those games when we had to scratch and claw and take advantage of opportunities that we had,” Walker said.
Through 40 games and at just about the quarter-turn of the season, the Pirates own a record tied for third-best in the National League and sit three-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Cardinals. In the scope of the 162-game season though, Walker’s and the Pirates’ focus remains on the road ahead and not what’s been done so far.
“That’s as far removed from our mind, we know that this is a long season,” Walker said. “But with the way we’re playing, it’s encouraging, and I like the way things are stacking up so far.”