MILWAUKEE -- The numbers will attest that Brian Bixler is not some abysmal baseball player.
Not in the minors.
With Class AAA Indianapolis, he has been not only an effective shortstop but also a fair hitter, having batted .278 with nine home runs over 100 games this season. To boot, he was that lineup's most dynamic hitter leading up to his Aug. 15 recall that provided yet another -- possibly the last? -- chance to show he can carry some of that to Pittsburgh.
But something clearly gets lost along Interstate 70 every time.
• Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 2:05 p.m., Miller Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ross Ohlendorf (11-8, 4.10) vs. RHP Jeff Suppan (5-9, 5.38).
• Key matchup: Ryan Doumit is 4 for 9 off Suppan, with two home runs.
• Of note: Ohlendorf has made eight consecutive starts without allowing more than three earned runs, dating back to July 5. He is 4-1 in that span, with a 3.17 ERA.
Bixler struck out three more times, once with the bases loaded, to raise his season total to an astonishing 23 in 33 at-bats, and he committed a critical fielding mistake in the Pirates' 7-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers last night at Miller Park.
Further perspective: Ross Ohlendorf, the team's weakest-hitting pitcher at .059, has struck out 21 times in 51 at-bats.
To be sure, no one in Pittsburgh has seen that other Bixler.
"No, I don't think they have," he said in a hushed tone afterward. "But I've said this before: I feel like I'm a major league player, like I belong with the Pirates. I just hope that, when I get my opportunities, I can put it all together and help this team win."
Bixler's average in 13 games with the Pirates, including an earlier stint, is .212, which underscores that, in the 10 times he has not struck out, he has seven hits and five of them are doubles.
His latest bad night began with a swinging strikeout against Yovani Gallardo in the second, and a check-swing strikeout with bases loaded to end the fourth after Gallardo clearly pitched around Jason Jaramillo to get to him, then a caught-looking strikeout in the sixth.
Maybe mercifully, Ronny Cedeno batted for Bixler in the ninth.
Bixler might well have taken all that into the field, too.
The Pirates led, 3-2, after Delwyn Young's RBI double and Andy LaRoche's two-run home run in the fifth, but the Brewers tied in the bottom half when Felipe Lopez reached on a throwing error by second baseman Delwyn Young -- actually, he allowed a slow bouncer to play him rather than the other way around -- and eventually scored.
Infield instructor Perry Hill teaches his players to charge forward on any ball that hits the dirt circle around the batter's box.
"Delwyn's learning," Russell said.
Then, after Jason Kendall's two-out single in the sixth, Bixler scooped up Alcides Escobar's routine roller and threw well wide, pulling first baseman Steve Pearce off the bag. It was quite generously ruled a single.
Pinch-hitter Jody Gerut's double put Milwaukee ahead, and Kevin Hart's wild pitch made it 5-3.
"It's a tough play," Pirates manager John Russell said. "But a good throw gets him."
Bixler's start was just his second since the recall, and Luis Cruz has done most of the substituting for the injured Cedeno.
"It's tough," Bixler said. "You just shake it off and come back tomorrow."
It was the Pirates' 20th consecutive loss in Milwaukee, the longest domination in one place between opponents since the Cleveland Indians beat the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles franchise 27 times in a row at old Municipal Stadium in 1952-54.
Hart fell to 6-6 overall, 1-4 with a 6.35 ERA since joining the Pirates, after getting tagged for five runs over six painfully deliberate innings that required 118 pitches, three walks, eight three-ball counts, and all kinds of pacing and fidgeting on the mound.
Russell and Hart each expressed that his stuff was fine -- "I feel like I threw better than I have in a while," Hart said -- but that mattered little.
"Just too many pitches," Russell said.
What about tempo?
"I think his tempo has increased, actually, over the last couple starts."
What bothered Hart the most was that the 3-2 lead was lost.
"I'm thinking, 'Man, here we go,' " Hart said. "But they had some hops go their way."
The Pirates are 35-29 at PNC Park, 18-45 everywhere else, including losses in 10 of their past 11 road games.