By Rich Rovito
The hard luck remains for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ A.J. Burnett.
Burnett gave up just three hits and two earned runs over seven innings but took the loss as the Milwaukee Brewers held on for a 2-1 victory Friday night.
“A.J. went out there and gave us another very good outing,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Burnett (3-5) retired 17 of the final 19 batters he faced. The National League strikeout leader fanned six while walking two.
“Once I got some work in, I settled down and got to where I needed to be,” Burnett said.
But Milwaukee made two second-inning runs against Burnett stand up on a strong pitching performance by its own starter, Marco Estrada, who yielded just one run over seven innings.
“That is a heck of outing from both guys. You may beat me but you will never out-compete me,” Burnett said.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said Burnett’s losing record on the mound this season is highly deceiving.
“When it comes to starters, sometimes you can’t look at their record. He has pitched amazing this whole time,” McCutchen said. “The past few starts we’ve been unable to produce the runs to get him the win.”
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke praised Burnett’s effort.
“He’s good. He throws up a lot of zeros. He has a great fastball and he locates it well. His curveball is as good as there is. It’s a sharp-breaking, hard curveball. He can pitch.”
Roenicke also was impressed with his own starting pitcher.
“(Estrada) had great location today. His fastball was live. He really located it well,” he said. “He pitched up when he needed to. He had a good breaking ball and a good changeup and commanded all of his pitches.”
Estrada (4-2) retired the first 14 batters. A bloop single by Neil Walker with two outs in the fifth inning was the Pirates’ first hit of the game.
Estrada fanned eight of 12 Pittsburgh batters at one point.
“I’ve been struggling a lot with my curveball. I felt like today that I threw a lot of them for strikes. I just built off of that,” Estrada said. “I had really good fastball command and I had a lot of swings on misses on the changeup.”
The Brewers scored their only runs of the game in second inning. Aramis Ramirez led off the inning with a walk. After Martin Maldonado struck out, Carlos Gomez laced an opposite-field, line-drive double that just missed hitting Ramirez, who was leading off first base. Ramirez and Gomez scored on Alex Gonzalez’s one-out double.
The Pirates didn’t threaten until the sixth inning, when Starling Marte tripled down the left-field line with two outs. Estrada struck out Travis Snider to end the inning. Pittsburgh finally got to Estrada in the seventh when Walker hit a two-out double, scoring Russell Martin, who reached on a fielder’s choice.
“(Estrada) made pitches when he had to. We didn’t give ourselves enough opportunities to capitalize,” Walker said. “When he has been really good, this is the game he throws.”
Four Brewers relievers combined to record the final six outs. Francisco Rodriguez retired the final batter to record his first save of the season and 295th of his career. Rodriguez’s last save came last July 18.
Rodriguez entered the game after Brewers closer Jim Henderson sustained a right hamstring injury while attempting to field a hard grounder off the bat of Martin.
“He felt his hamstring grab on him,” Roenicke said. “We’ll re-evaluate it tomorrow and see where we are. I don’t think it’s just going to be a day.”
Roenicke said he’s unsure if he’ll name a closer if Henderson is out for an extended period.
“I don’t know if we want to go with just one person. We may look at the matchups and see what they are every night,” he said.
Rodriguez said he’s prepared to close if called upon, but expressed concern for his injured bullpen mate.
“That’s the last thing you want to see,” Rodriguez said. “Jim’s been doing such a good job and to see him go down like that is not good at all. Hopefully, we can have him as soon as possible.”
Milwaukee had lost 16 of 20 games entering the contest, while the Pirates had a four-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time in 14 games.
Notes: Estrada laced an opposite-field single in the fifth inning, one of only three hits against Burnett. “He threw me a fastball and I’m pretty sure he missed. I just made contact and it found a hole,” Estrada said. .The Brewers placed starting pitcher Hiram Burgos on the 15-day disabled list. Relief pitcher Tom Gorzelanny was reinstated from the DL. ... Burnett entered the game with a National League-leading 79 strikeouts. The only other Pirate pitcher since 1900 to have at least 79 strikeouts by the end of May is Bob Veale, who had 81 in 1966. ... The game marked the start of stretch in which Milwaukee will play 20 games over 20 days. .Estrada threw 100 pitches, 73 for strikes. Burnett threw 99 pitches, 65 for strikes. .The Brewers won for the first time in 20 tries this season when scoring three or fewer runs.