The Pirates had a few opportunities early Thursday night to get a big hit, manager Clint Hurdle said.
It never arrived. Then, the hits stopped coming altogether.
The Pirates offense fell flat in a 4-0 loss to the Brewers at PNC Park, their 10th shutout loss of the season.
"We couldn't connect the dots," Hurdle said.
The Pirates managed six hits and hit into three double plays. They stranded five baserunners and sent the minimum number of batters to the plate over the game's final five innings.
"Our approach has stayed the same," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "We just couldn't come up with the big hit. That's pretty much what it all boils down to."
The fourth-place Brewers (59-74) took two of three games from the second-place Pirates (77-56), who trail the St. Louis Cardinals by one game for first place in the National League Central.
But the Brewers have been playing better baseball than the Pirates the past two months, with a 27-26 record since July 1 compared to a 26-27 mark for the Pirates in that time.
And Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo, who pitched seven shutout innings Thursday, has been a better pitcher since returning from the disabled list late last month. He has allowed just two earned runs in his past three starts, spanning 191/3 innings.
"He's pitched extremely well," Hurdle said. "He's been efficient. There's downhill angle. He changes speeds. He stays out of the middle. We couldn't connect the dots."
Andrew McCutchen gave the Pirates their best opportunity in the first inning when he nearly hit an inside-the-park home run. He dropped a line drive in front of Milwaukee center fielder Carlos Gomez, who let the ball roll to the wall in his attempt to catch it.
Third-base coach Nick Leyva held up McCutchen, soliciting a collective groan from the hometown crowd.
McCutchen said he wasn't hustling out of the batter's box because he was focusing too much on whether the line drive would drop.
"If I'd a been running 85 percent out of the box, I probably would've had a better chance of getting there instead of praying that he didn't catch it, thinking about it the whole time," he said.
The triple was the Pirates' lone extra-base hit of the night. But McCutchen said Gallardo (10-9) was fortunate the Pirates didn't inflict more damage.
"He got pretty lucky today, that's the way that I look at it," McCutchen said.
"We squared some balls up, hit some balls hard. People had to be in the right place at the right time today. Balls just didn't find the gaps. It's kind of the way that I look at it. I won't say he dominated. In my mind, I don't think he did. He really got lucky today -- a lot of things went his way."
The lone bright spot was catcher John Buck, who went 3 for 3 with three singles in his Pirates debut. Buck and Marlon Byrd joined the team this week in a trade with the New York Mets.
But it was Buck's work behind the plate that drew the best reviews from Hurdle.
Buck helped rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole work through some early shakiness to piece together a quality outing, allowing four runs, three earned, on 10 hits in 71/3 innings.
Cole (6-7) pitched through problems in almost every inning, and he needed help from his defense to escape many of them. The Pirates turned double plays in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings, helping Cole avert disaster throughout the night.
An errant pickoff throw put him in trouble as the Brewers took an early lead.
With one out in the first, Cole made a low throw toward first that bounced under a diving Jean Segura and rolled to the wall.
The ball caromed off the wall into fair territory in shallow right as Segura raced all the way to third.
"I really screwed up that pickoff play pretty good," Cole said.
Jonathan Lucroy singled to right field, scoring Segura as the Brewers took a 1-0 lead.
The Brewers added a run in the second, and former Pirate Aramis Ramirez's second home run of the series made it 3-0 in the fourth.
But Buck helped Cole recover and give the Pirates some distance.
"What separates the really good pitchers from the middle-of-the-road guys is being able to pitch out of problems like that," Cole said.
"It's something I need to get better at because I feel like I'm doing a good job of minimizing, but really stopping those rallies and making a few pitches could swing the momentum the other way. In my view, it could give our offense a jolt or not put them in a hole so early."
Staff writer Jenn Menendez contributed to this report. Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 30, 2013 2:00 AM