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MIL@PIT: Marcum starts a double play in the third

PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers ended a successful road trip with a whimper on Wednesday, and you could hardly blame them for looking tired. A 2-0 loss to the Pirates capped a stretch of 17 games in 16 days, ending with a road trip that included a near-three-hour rain delay and a doubleheader.

It was a good stretch, Wednesday's five-hit shutout notwithstanding. The Brewers added seven games to their National League Central lead over the second-place Cardinals.

They will sit on the lead Thursday before returning to work Friday night with at least a 9 1/2-game edge in the division.

"I think we need that day off, and then we'll get back after it again," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

Debuting left-hander Aaron Thompson delivered 4 1/3 innings for the Pirates, and veteran relievers Jason Grilli, Jose Veras and Joel Hanrahan combined to blank the Brewers on five singles, pitching Pittsburgh to a split of the four-game series at PNC Park.

The Brewers were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, including three strikeouts against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning after the first two runners reached.

"It's such a long season that you're going to have days where you don't swing the bats as well as you would like to," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who had two of Milwaukee's hits. "We pitched well, and I thought we played fine defensively. Our pitchers have done a great job of keeping us in every game."

That was Shaun Marcum's department on Wednesday, and he limited the Pirates to a pair of sacrifice flies in six workmanlike innings. Takashi Saito pitched a scoreless seventh inning, Tim Dillard and John Axford combined for a scoreless eighth -- Axford needed the work because had had not pitched since Saturday -- and the Brewers threatened in the ninth against Hanrahan.

Braun led off with a single and took second on defensive indifference before Prince Fielder walked. Hanranhan rallied to strike out Casey McGehee, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy in order to end the game, throwing 19 consecutive fastballs, the last of which touched 100 mph, before getting Lucroy on a called third strike with a high slider.

Hanrahan had suffered his first ninth-inning blown save of the season in his previous appearance on Sunday, but bounced back for his 32nd save. Pirates pitchers dealt the Brewers only their fifth loss in 29 games.

"You'll take a split," said Grilli, who earned the win. "Against a club doing what they're doing, we'll take it."

The series finale was very short of dramatics. Both Pirates runs scored on sacrifice flies -- one by Andrew McCutchen in the first inning and another by Neil Walker in the fourth. The Brewers went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position in the first five innings, and then didn't have another opportunity until the ninth.

"It was a good day to pitch, I guess," Marcum said. "Their bullpen did a great job of coming in and holding us down."

Marcum (11-4) took a tough-luck loss after allowing two runs on four hits in six innings. He was burned after leadoff doubles by Jose Tabata in the first inning and Josh Harrison in the fourth. Both players advanced a base -- Tabata on a sacrifice bunt and Harrison on a wild pitch -- before scoring on a sacrifice fly.

Marcum lost for the first time in 10 starts, since falling to the Yankees on June 29 in New York. He had won four starts since then and taken five no-decisions.

"The last two innings, [he was] good, but before that, he was grinding," Roenicke said. "He does a great job of just -- when he doesn't have his great command -- he figures out a way to get out of innings. I thought he got into a nice rhythm the last two innings."

The Brewers had their chances against the 24-year-old Thompson, promoted Wednesday morning to help the Pirates cover a spate of injuries. He allowed four hits and two walks, but no runs in 4 1/3 innings, and fell two outs shy of qualifying for a win in his big league debut.

Thompson was in trouble from the start, when Corey Hart led off the game with a single and stole second base. Hart moved to third on a groundout, but Thompson retired Braun and Fielder on flyouts to strand Hart at third. In the fourth inning, Braun singled and stole second base before Thompson escaped again, striking out Fielder and retiring Betancourt on a grounder to shortstop.

In the fifth, Lucroy reached third base with nobody out after a leadoff single, a stolen base and a throwing error charged to Pirates catcher Michael McHenry. After a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle called for Grilli, who stranded both runners in scoring position by retiring Hart and Hairston.

"When we get the runner to third base, somehow we have to try to put the ball in play," Roenicke said. "The infield's back. We could have hit any ground ball to score a run."

The Brewers had scored 44 runs in the first six games of their road trip before Wednesday's shutout.

"We would have obviously liked to win today. Winning the series is more important than splitting," Marcum said. "But 5-2 [on the trip], we'll take it. We still have a decent-sized lead."

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