MILWAUKEE -- In the span of a few hours on Tuesday, the Brewers lost cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez to the disabled list, lost leadoff man Carlos Gomez to a stiff lower back and removed Ryan Braun from a two-run game as part of a plan to ease Braun off the disabled list. Manager Ron Roenicke is using a lot of ink on his lineup cards these days.
But once again, Roenicke's final mark went in the win column. Marco Estrada made it through six innings, Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks drove in runs, and the Brewers beat the Pirates, 5-2, at Miller Park to remain firmly in control of the National League Central.
The 25-14 Brewers have won three games in a row after losing six of the previous eight, despite a number of personnel issues on the offensive side. No matter; Lucroy moved into the cleanup spot Tuesday and delivered a two-run single in the third inning, Weeks came off the bench for a run-scoring infield hit in the sixth, and Mark Reynolds and Jean Segura added an RBI apiece in the seventh.
"I like it when we're getting on base and different guys are doing it through the lineup," Roenicke said. "I think that's what we're going to need to do with Aramis out and 'Brauny' coming back."
Estrada and three Brewers relievers did the rest, Estrada using 112 pitches to navigate traffic over six innings while holding the Pirates to only one run. He surrendered six hits and two walks but struck out eight batters, one shy of a season high.
Brandon Kintzler and Will Smith preserved the lead over an inning apiece, Smith surrendering a run that was unearned because of Segura's throwing error, and Francisco Rodriguez bounced back from a blown save Sunday against the Yankees. Rodriguez's save was his 16th this season.
The Brewers continued to beat up on their favorite opponent. They are 83-37 against the Pirates since the start of 2007, including 7-1 this season, and played Tuesday without any of the extracurricular activities that marked the teams' previous meeting on Easter Sunday and led to four players being suspended.
"I think that stuff is kind of behind us," Lucroy said. "I don't think anybody wants to do any of that any more. I think we're all over it."
As for why the Brewers are so good at beating the Bucs, Roenicke said, "I don't know. We seem to play good baseball, I don't know why that is. We've pitched well, and I think when we're pitching well, I don't think there's anybody that's going to hit our guys."
Estrada had to work hard to pitch well, allowing a Neil Walker home run with one out in the first inning before dealing with Pirates baserunners in every inning that followed through the sixth.
When a reporter suggested he "battled," Estrada let out a big sigh.
"Oh God, you have no idea," Estrada said. "Every inning, I battled. I was trying to be too careful with every pitch. The plan was I was going to bounce a couple of changeups, but I did it way too much, and I wasn't giving it a chance. …
"It could have been really bad today, that's for sure. Luckily, I had great defense like I always do behind me. I just battled. It was tough, but mentally I was there."
Estrada had not pitched since May 6, a layoff of one full week because of a pair of Brewers off-days. Roenicke surmised that "could be" a contributing factor to Estrada's issues.
"His last outing, he kind of struggled with it, too, so we need to get him back with his command," Roenicke said. "The nice thing is when he's missing, he's missing out of the zone instead of in the middle of the plate where they get good pitches to hit. So if he's missing out of the zone and then he comes back with a great pitch, it's still going to be tough to hit him, it's just that his pitch count goes up so high."
Brewers batters did their best to make Pirates starter Gerrit Cole work just as hard. Topping out at 98 mph, Cole was charged with three runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, with three walks and six strikeouts.
Cole was one of the players in the middle of the action April 20 when the teams emptied the benches at PNC Park. The event began with Cole sharing sharp words with Gomez, who went 0-for-1 Tuesday with a walk and was hit by a pitch -- a changeup -- in the third inning.
"He gave me a head nod with the first at-bat and I gave him one back," Cole said. "I've read his comments, and I'm sure he's read mine. I think pretty much everybody is on the same page about this, you know? I think we've all moved on.
"That kind of tension, that kind of extra adrenaline you get is good, but at the same time, sometimes you just want to forget about it and go out and play, which I think is what they did. I think it's what we did, too. It happened, and we moved on. I think everybody knows I goosed the changeup pretty good there, and that's what happens sometime."
Gomez exited the game in the sixth with lower back tightness unrelated to Cole's misplaced pitch, and Braun left in the top of the seventh as planned. He had not played a game before Tuesday since April 26.
Khris Davis and Elian Herrera stepped in for those departed players, and both had two hits.
"I don't know, I just like to see guys swinging the bat well all through," Roenicke said. "We're doing that, and we keep pitching well."