Marco Estrada was impressive in his latest start — except for one inning.
That was the difference.
Jay Bruce hit a three-run home run to cap a five-run fourth, leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 6-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night.
Estrada (0-2) used 43 pitches to set the Reds down in order each of the first three innings, but gave up five runs in just 11 pitches to open the fourth.
"He threw a great game except for that inning," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't know why we're having those tough innings, but he threw the ball really well the rest of the game."
The Brewers threatened in the fourth and seventh innings against Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo (2-1), but only scored on a home run by Ryan Braun in the first — the NL MVP's ninth.
In the fourth, Milwaukee had runners on second and third with no outs and the bases loaded with two outs but Cesar Izturis popped out to end the inning.
In the seventh, Logan Andrusek relieved Arroyo with two outs and got leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki to fly out to shallow right field to end the inning and strand two runners. Aoki went 0 for 4 and Milwaukee's leadoff hitters are batting .162 (18 for 111) this year.
The No. 2 batter in the Brewers lineup is batting only .231 (27 for 117). With the top of the lineup struggling to get on base, Braun is not getting many RBI chances and Milwaukee has scored only 12 runs in its last six games.
"Those two spots are important," Roenicke said. "I like the guys we have there and they will hit. It's just tough when you go this long without them hitting."
The Brewers played hours after learning that shortstop Alex Gonzalez tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. Milwaukee's first baseman Mat Gamel (torn ACL in right knee) and fifth starter Chris Narveson (torn left rotator cuff) are also out with season-ending injuries.
"It was a different lineup than what you expect against these guys, with the amount of guys they had hurt," Arroyo said. "I didn't have a lot of reps against four or five of those guys, so I was feeling my way through the game."
Estrada, making his third start in place of Narveson, pitched seven innings, giving up five runs on eight hits with five strikeouts. He retired the first nine batters he faced before falling apart in the fourth.
"The first four innings were a blur to me," Estrada said. "I didn't feel comfortable out there.
"I didn't think I was making good pitches," he said. "I got away with a lot of pitches, but I just had a good defense behind me. That fourth inning, after they scored those runs, it just woke me up and I thought I did better after that."
Cincinnati has won six of eight and is 3-1 in a stretch where it will play 13 of 16 on the road.
Zack Cozart hit his third home run on the first pitch of the fourth inning to tie the score 1-all. Drew Stubbs then hit Estrada's next pitch off the center field wall for a double.
Joey Votto went into an 0-2 hole, but hit the sixth pitch from Estrada down the right field line for a double, scoring Stubbs and giving the Reds a 2-1 lead.
Brandon Phillips followed with a first-pitch single to right, moving Votto to third.
Bruce then hit a 1-0 pitch deep onto the right-center field concourse, giving the Reds a 5-1 lead.
"It's like boom, boom, boom, boom," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "It's the game of baseball. You go to the bathroom and come back, there could be four or five runs on the board. That's how quickly it happens."
NOTES: Before the game, the Reds activated INF Cairo from the 15-day DL and outrighted Willie Harris to Triple-A Louisville. The transaction removes Harris from the 40-man roster. He can refuse the assignment and become a free agent, or he has 72 hours to report to Louisville. ... Cozart has a five-game hitting streak.