Steven Brault shines on mound, at plate as Pirates end 5-game losing skid
MILWAUKEE — All summer long, Steven Brault was the best starting pitcher in the Triple-A International League. On Monday, he was nearly perfect against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Brault suffocated the Brewers for six innings and delivered two hits, including a two-run single, as the Pirates cruised to a 7-0 victory to end a five-game losing skid.
It was Brault's first win in 16 appearances (nine starts) in the majors.
"It's an impressive night," manager Clint Hurdle said. "One he'll always remember."
At Triple-A Indianapolis, Brault went 10-5 with a league-best 1.94 ERA over 21 games (20 starts). Called up July 22, Brault was assigned to the bullpen.
With management's focus shifted toward planning for next year, Brault has been squeezed into the rotation.
"If you get a big league opportunity, you move on it," Hurdle said. "We told him we'd be hunting some starts for him. We've gotten him two, and he's responded well."
Monday was Brault's second audition start, and the Brewers never had a chance. The left-hander allowed one single, one walk and struck out six.
"I wasn't afraid to just be in the zone and let them hit the ball," Brault said. "That's key. This is a good-hitting team. It was fun to be able to attack them and let them get themselves out."
The Brewers began the day just two games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the division race. With top starter Jimmy Nelson done for the season with a shoulder injury, guys such as rookie left-hander Brandon Woodruff will have to step up.
However, the Pirates tagged Woodruff (1-2) for six runs, as many as they scored over their previous five games.
Making just his fifth start, Woodruff fell behind quickly in the first inning. Adam Frazier hit a one-out single, and Andrew McCutchen lined the next pitch over the right-field wall.
It was the first time McCutchen went deep since Aug. 8. During that 28-game stretch without a homer, McCutchen batted .208 with a .255 slugging percentage.
McCutchen has hit 20 home runs at Miller Park, his most at any road venue.
"Numbers don't lie," said McCutchen, who owns a .302 career batting average in Milwaukee. "It's a hitters' park, man, so have good at-bats."
Brault nursed the lead, working over the Brewers with good inside stuff and getting lots of soft contact.
"If I'm going to be successful, I need to get inside, especially on righties," Brault said. "I kind of crossfire a little bit, so if I can get it in on righties, that really opens up the outer half for me. It was huge for me tonight."
Finding the zone with every pitch in his arsenal, Brault threw first-pitch strikes to seven of the last 10 batters he faced.
"From a hitters' standpoint, it looked like you just didn't know what you were going to get or where you were going to get it," McCutchen said. "That's what made him very effective. He was working in, working out, working up."
Brault was handy with a bat, too. With one out in the fifth, Brault roped a first-pitch fastball into the right-field corner for a double. Starling Marte's home run to center made it 4-0.
"(Brault) turned on the ball like a guy who's had some experience in the box," Hurdle said.
The homer snapped Marte's 0-for-12 skid. It's no surprise the blast happened at Miller Park. Over his past 14 games in Milwaukee, Marte is batting .370 (20 for 54).
Ryan Braun drew a two-out walk in the fourth to become the Brewers' first baserunner. Leading off the fifth, Jesus Aguilar lined a 2-0 fastball into left for the first hit off Brault.
"That's getting behind in counts, which is something I've been working on avoiding," Brault said. "I was able to avoid it, for the most part, tonight, which helped me get through those innings a lot quicker."
Woodruff was replaced in the sixth after giving up Josh Bell's double and Gregory Polanco's single. With the bases loaded and two outs, Brault bounced a two-run single up the middle off Jared Hughes.
"You come up, it's a four-run lead, bases loaded and you can make it a six-run game. It makes a huge difference," Brault said. "That's something I can bring to the table."
Jordy Mercer hit a solo homer in the eighth.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.