MILWAUKEE -- The Pittsburgh Pirates arrived in Milwaukee six full games behind the surprising first-place Brewers in the National League Central but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle thought his team had an opportunity to get back in the race with a four-game set at Miller Park.
"I'm glad it's happening right now," Hurdle said Monday afternoon, prior to his team's 8-1 romp over the Brewers. "It's a great opportunity for us and where we are in the season to come and play the first-place team in four games. Wonderful."
After shaving one game off Milwaukee's lead, the Pirates will go at it again Tuesday when Chad Kuhl (1-6, 5.61 ERA) faces off against Brewers right-hander Zach Davies (7-3, 4.91).
"Nobody has planned it out to play below .500 baseball, and we've got every team but one now doing it in the division. We've got one .500 and one above," Hurdle said prior to Monday's slate of games, which included a victory by the Chicago Cubs that moved the defending champs back above the .500 mark. "Just trying to find our way. It's like one of those races you see. Everybody starts off, they stay kind of jumbled and somebody is looking to make a break at some point in time."
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Kuhl, who is 1-0 in three career starts vs. the Brewers with a 1.76 ERA, has struggled this season but has caught Hurdle's eye by adding a couple of clicks to his velocity over his last few starts -- even if he doesn't know how it might play out.
"It jumped all of a sudden," Hurdle said. "It was nothing we've ever seen. And then it happened and now it's repeatedly happen. Now it's in a place where you're kind of 'OK now it's going to happen.' This is what we've got, so I really don't know.
"I'm just curious to how it's going to play out, man. I'm just watching from the sidelines and cheering for him."
Davies has been up and down this season but one thing has been fairly constant through his 14 starts: an inability to get past the sixth inning. He has cleared it just three times this season but hasn't gotten past five in either of his last two starts, allowing four runs in both of those outings.
He is 1-2 with a 9.56 ERA in four career starts against Pittsburgh, but earned that victory earlier this season when he held the Pirates to two runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 6-2 victory May 7 at PNC Park.
The Brewers will still be without left fielder Ryan Braun, who continues taking part in the full load of on-field, pregame workouts but isn't quite ready to head out on a minor-league rehab assignment as he works his way back from a strained left calf that has limited him to just three games since May 10.
"Ryan has got to have confidence to take the next step," manager Craig Counsell said. "We're just not quite there yet. We're still hopeful that this week that we take this final step. We've got to clear that last hurdle. There's no setback at all. I just think we have to clear that step where he feels like he can go at full steam. He's cleared to do everything."