SAN FRANCISCO -- Marco Estrada has seven weeks to prove he belongs in the Brewers' 2014 starting rotation, and his bid is off to a rousing start.
Pitching in the right place at the right time -- and for the first time after two months on the disabled list -- Estrada took the mound at spacious AT&T Park and further frustrated the slumping Giants over five inspired innings. The Brewers rallied for four runs in the eighth inning when cracks emerged in the opposing defense, and won, 6-1.
"Those are good wins for us, because it doesn't happen very often," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We make mistakes out there in the field and the other team usually capitalizes on it and we end up losing the game. It's nice sometimes when it happens for us."
San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner was as good as expected until he contributed to the Giants' defensive letdowns in the decisive eighth, but Estrada was better. In his first start since straining his left hamstring June 3 against Oakland, the right-hander navigated five innings on 76 pitches and allowed only one baserunner -- Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford on a first-inning single that ticked off second baseman Rickie Weeks' glove and trickled into center field.
After that hit, Estrada retired the final 14 men he faced, six of them on strikeouts.
"At first I felt a little weird out there," Estrada said, "and as I kept going I felt a little more comfortable. ... I tried not to show too many emotions out there, especially when I first got in. I tried to keep it relaxed. Obviously, I was very excited. It was great to be out there again. It's been a long time."
Expectations for his return were muted, considering Estrada's return from his hamstring injury was delayed in mid-July by a bad back and that he had made only two Minor League rehabilitation starts before Wednesday. Estrada's early return allowed previously scheduled starter Tom Gorzelanny a few more days to recover from a line drive off his left elbow.
Estrada had thrown only 47 pitches in his previous start for Triple-A Nashville but found a favorable matchup at AT&T Park, where the Giants have been struggling to score. Estrada's bid was aided by his outfielders, most notably center fielder Carlos Gomez, who made a leaping, wall-crashing catch to rob Buster Posey of a hit in the first inning and running catches in the third and the fifth. Left fielder Khris Davis came from the other direction to make a nice catch of his own in the fourth.
"He did locate it well," said Giants outfielder Hunter Pence. "If we hit it hard, it was right at someone. So they played great defense, too."
"Those innings, they were really efficient," Roenicke said. "For [Estrada] to come out and throw five innings like that, I figured in one of those innings, at least, he was going to scuffle a little bit, with his command anyway. And he really didn't."
For seven innings, Brewers batters were similarly stymied by Bumgarner, the 24-year-old left-hander bidding to become the first Giants pitcher since Gaylord Perry in 1960 to work at least seven innings and surrender three or fewer runs in 10 straight starts.
The Giants provided a brief lead in the bottom of the seventh, Alfredo Figaro's second inning of relief work. Crawford's leadoff walk, followed by a Brandon Belt single (again off Weeks' glove), followed by a passed ball left runners at second and third base for Posey, who hit a sinking line drive to left-center field. Davis made a terrific tumbling catch, but Crawford tagged up and trotted home for a 1-0 lead.
Figaro avoided further damage and the Brewers rewarded the escape, scoring four runs off Bumgarner in an eighth inning that included five hits, a misplay by Crawford as the tying run scored, and an outright error by Bumgarner that gave the Brewers the lead.
Davis led off the inning with a sharp single and moved to third on Yuniesky Betancourt's double. Jeff Bianchi followed with an RBI infield hit to the shortstop Crawford, who double-pumped before firing a late throw to first base. Pinch-hitter Logan Schafer then bunted to Bumgarner, who tried to retire the lead runner but instead skipped a low throw past third base, giving the Brewers a 2-1 lead.
Norichika Aoki's two-run single provided insurance, and the Brewers added two more runs in the ninth on Davis' solo homer and Martin Maldonado's RBI single.
"We didn't do a whole lot off of [Bumgarner]," Roenicke said. "You look at his numbers and his record, any time you can win a game that he's starting, it's a great game."
Estrada's next start will come next week in Texas, the next step in his bid to prove himself again.
"I'm not going to put it to him that way," Roenicke said. "He knows what he needs to do. He knows where we were before he got hurt, and he wasn't throwing as well as he was last year. He's certainly out to prove something."