Pair of Braun homers spells defeat for Pirates

Pirates pinch-hitter Travis Snider drives in two runs with a hit during the fourth inning against the Brewers on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.
Pirates pinch-hitter Travis Snider drives in two runs with a hit during the fourth inning against the Brewers on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Travis Sawchik
| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 10:24 p.m.

The Pirates like Ike. They are hoping to have better feelings soon regarding some key members of their pitching staff.

A day after the Pirates acquired left-handed-hitting first baseman Ike Davis to bolster their lineup, run prevention was the Pirates' more notable issue. Jason Grilli blew his second save of the season, allowing a two-run homer to Ryan Braun in the ninth inning, and Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez failed to pitch into the fifth inning of an 8-7 loss to the Brewers on Saturday.

“I embrace the challenge of an atmosphere and an environment like this,” said Braun, who was booed by the 32,490 in attendance before each at bat. “As a competitor, I think it makes it enjoyable. It makes it challenging.”

The Pirates have lost five of six games to Milwaukee this season.

“Not where I wanted it, obviously,” said Grilli of the 94 mph pitch Braun hit out to center field. “We were trying to bust him in all night and left it out over the plate.”

Grilli has some troubling early trend lines as his strikeouts are down and his walks and ERA are up. He didn't blow a save until the middle of June last season.

The normally consistent Tony Watson allowed Braun's first homer in the seventh inning to cut the Pirates' lead to 7-6. Rodriguez's early-season issues are more pronounced than just about any pitcher on the staff, and they continued Saturday.

Rodriguez's fastball has lost 2 mph in velocity this season in returning from elbow tendonitis. But it's been location misses that have been most damaging for the veteran left-hander.

In the third inning, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy rifled back-to-back RBI hits off Rodriguez mistakes, and in the fourth inning Mark Reynolds launched a home run to right-center off an 88 mph Rodriguez fastball that caught too much of the plate. The shot gave the Brewers a 4-1 lead. It was the seventh home run Rodriguez has allowed in 20 innings this season.

Rodriguez was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. He left the game with a 7.65 ERA, and 25 percent of fly balls allowed have gone for home runs.

“I need to throw the ball down. I don't have a fastball like 98 (mph). Then I could go up,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez's poor start and the blown save overshadowed Davis' successful. He reached base three times and scored twice.

Even though Davis only had been in Pittsburgh for several hours before stepping to the plate for the first time in the second inning, he already had an idea of how to adapt to life at PNC Park.

Before the game, Davis was asked about the right-field Clemente Wall, which has a distance from home plate that makes it a tempting target for left-handed hitters.

Davis said he was not thinking much about the more hitter-friendly, right-field dimensions because he rarely sees inside fastballs. His opposite-field focus allowed for a successful debut.

In his first at-bat, Davis lined a double down the left-field line off Matt Garza. Neil Walker singled in Davis for the Pirates' first run of the game.

In the fourth inning, Davis demonstrated the one skill that has been consistent throughout his up-and-down career — the ability to walk — and he later scored on a two-run, pinch-hit single by Travis Snider to give the Pirates a 6-4 lead, capping a five-run frame.

Jose Tabata and Clint Barmes, starting over Jordy Mercer (lower leg injury) who later pinch hit, also recorded run-scoring singles in the game off Garza, who allowed six runs — five earned — over five innings.

Davis, who went 2 for 3, also singled off Brewers right-handed reliever Rob Wooten.

“It was nice to get on a couple times,” Davis said. “You always want to get off to a good start, especially in a new environment.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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