The Pirates started their unofficial second half of the season the same way they opened in April, getting swept on the road by a mediocre National League Central division opponent.
Jeff Locke turned in another strong start and drove in the team's only run, but the Pirates couldn't overcome the Brewers, losing, 6-1, on another frustrating day at Miller Park.
Locke had three strikeouts and two walks, holding the Brewers to three runs on eight hits in 7 1-3 innings before they got three unearned runs off Jared Hughes in an ugly eighth inning.
Jordy Mercer was injured on a hard slide by Carlos Gomez in the second inning. Playing to the right of second base in a shift on Adam Lind, Mercer handled the grounder and, instead of tossing to Jung-Ho Kang at second, he went to tag Gomez, who was running from first. Gomez took out Mercer's legs with a hard slide about 10 feet away from the bag. Mercer rolled on the ground in pain, and was taken out of the game immediately. Hurdle said after the game Mercer was being sent back to Pittsburgh to be evaluated. I'm assuming at least a 15-day disabled list trip is coming.
It was a play Mercer probably should have avoided, but I don't think Gomez is free of fault. He wasn't all that close to the base when he slid. I'm not sure there's much difference between this play and a runner taking a fielder out 45 feet from the base during a rundown, which you'd never see.
The Pirates threatened with two outs in the third inning when Locke walked and Gregory Polanco doubled. Neil Walker grounded out to end the inning, though.
The Bucs took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Jaff Decker got a triple when Gomez couldn't handle his drive to the warning track in center. With one out, Sean Rodriguez popped out. Brewers starter Taylor Jungmann fell behind in the count to Locke 3-0 before getting back to 3-2, then Locke slapped an RBI single to left field. Polanco followed that with a walk, but Walker stranded two again with a flyout.
Locke ran into trouble in the seventh, handing Gomez a leadoff walk and giving up a single to Aramis Ramirez. Khris Davis then doubled to right-center field. Gomez scored easily and a lackadaisical throw by Starling Marte, playing center field in place of Andrew McCutchen, allowed the old, slow Ramirez to score from first, giving Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.
Disaster struck when Hughes relieved Locke in the eighth. Hughes couldn't handle Ryan Braun's comebacker, putting two runners on with one out. Lind's grounder to first base was an awfully close fair-foul call over the base. Travis Ishikawa stabbed at the ball and deflected it and reacted as though it was foul, but C.B. Bucknor called it fair and a run scored. I didn't see any convincing video evidence one way or another, but I see no reason why a play like that can't be reviewable. After a Ramirez sac fly, pinch-hitter Shane Peterson hit a two-run double to extend the Brewers' lead to 6-2.
It was an unfortunate waste of another good start by Locke. Jungmann, who also seems pretty mediocre, settled in to go seven innings, strike out five, walk three and allow the one run on five hits. Brewers pitchers had nine strikeouts in total.
Kang was the only Pirate with multiple hits, going 2-for-4. He shifted from third base to shortstop when Mercer went out.
Mercer's loss will be felt by the Pirates. Whether he's been hitting well or not, he's been a key cog in the team's ground-ball, shift-heavy approach to run prevention. Rodriguez replaced Mercer in the lineup and went 0-for-4. I'm concerned that Mercer's absence will lead to Rodriguez starting regularly. Kang has filled in at short, but I have questions about his long-term viability in such a key position, particularly for the Pirates.
Oh, and the Pirates head to Kansas City to face the American League's best team this week.