MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in years, Manny Parra can enjoy the luxury of not having to worry about pain in his left shoulder.

Parra tossed 6 1/3 relief innings against the Mets on Wednesday, making what essentially was a start on short rest after he took the ball for a spot start against the Cardinals three days before that. Parra relieved starter Claudio Vargas in the third inning Wednesday and lasted all the way until the end of the game, throwing 87 pitches in the process.

The left-hander has never started on three days' rest in his career, but he said he wasn't feeling any more soreness than usual Thursday morning.

"Everything's normal," Parra said. "It's a good sign that I was able to recover well."

The 24-year-old Parra missed parts of the last three seasons with shoulder injuries, even having his 2005 campaign cut short by surgery in August to repair a torn rotator cuff.

Parra still was taking anti-inflammatory drugs for his shoulder as recently as mid-May this year, but he now feels his injuries are a thing of the past.

The southpaw held the Mets to just one run Wednesday, baffling them with a fastball that topped out at 95 mph and a mixture of splitters and curveballs.

"He's a special talent, like all these kids are," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "That's just what I expected of Manny, to come in and do what he's done."

Nothing he has done so far has surprised Parra, either. The youngster said he always has put up good numbers when he has been healthy.

In addition, Parra has absorbed a ton of advice from Carlos Villanueva, who like Parra had to make the transition from starter to reliever this season. Villanueva suggested tidbits like throwing a breaking ball on the first pitch in situations where hitters might feel a little more anxious than usual, such as in the late innings of close games.

These adjustments have helped Parra record a 1.84 ERA in his four big-league appearances so far, spanning 14 2/3 innings.

"I think the more I pitch in the season, the better I get," Parra said. "I feel pretty good about this season."

Don't look now: The Brewers entered Thursday's action not sitting in first place in the National League Central for the first time in 103 days, with the Cubs having overtaken them with a 5-4 win over the Phillies on Wednesday.

Milwaukee (58-50, .537) now lies percentage points behind Chicago (57-49, .538), but catcher Damian Miller said he hasn't noticed any of his teammates fretting over the new-look division standings.

"We're still going to approach it the same way we've been doing for the whole season and taking care of our own business," Miller said. "Sometimes it's hard not to, but you've really got to tell yourself it really doesn't matter what the people behind us do. It matters what you do. But it's a lot easier said than done."

Dessens feeling OK: Elmer Dessens, who started the year as the Brewers' long reliever before falling victim to a shoulder strain in May, reported he feels 100 percent once again.

The right-hander made three rehab starts at Triple-A Nashville over the past month, including a five-inning stint against Fresno on Friday in which he allowed an earned run and struck out four.

"I felt better each time I pitched," Dessens said. "I felt like I let it go with everything I had, and I felt pretty good."

The Brewers now have Parra and Yovani Gallardo manning the role of the long man in the bullpen, however, leaving Dessens' status with the big club in question. Milwaukee will have to make a move when it returns Scott Linebrink to the roster from the bereavement list on Saturday, which leaves Dessens as a candidate to return to Nashville.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Yost said. "We'll figure it out when Linebrink comes back."

No matter what happens, Yost said the Brewers will continue to carry 13 pitchers for now, especially with the bullpen's heavy workload of late. Milwaukee has just four outfielders after sending Tony Gwynn Jr. down to Nashville.

"We don't need the extra player right now," Yost said. "I'd rather have the extra pitcher."

Just because: Yost gave a cryptic explanation for his decision to start Johnny Estrada behind the plate for Thursday's day game against the Mets. The move bucks Yost's trend of spotting Estrada with his backup, Miller, for day games after night games.

"Johnny's catching," Yost simply said. "I wanted Johnny back there."

Miller, who said he's feeling fine, has batted .429 (6-for-14) with a triple and three RBIs lifetime against Thursday Mets starter Brian Lawrence. The switch-hitting Estrada has one hit in two career at-bats against the right-hander.

Last call: Ryan Braun was voted the Brewers Player of the Month after batting .345 with 11 home runs and 25 RBIs in July. Fellow rookie Gallardo picked up the Brewers Pitcher of the Month Award by going 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA.

Braun also won National League Player of the Month, in addition to Rookie of the Month, the first player to win both in the same month.

On deck: The Brewers begin a three-game series Friday evening at 7:05 CT against the Phillies, who had reeled off nine wins in 10 games before dropping their last two, heading into Thursday's finale with the Cubs. The game will feature a matchup of two rookie hurlers, with Milwaukee sending Gallardo (3-1, 2.72) to the mound and Philadelphia countering with Kyle Kendrick (5-1, 4.04).