MILWAUKEE — Mark Melancon doesn’t walk people. He issued one free pass through his first 19 innings this season. Last year he walked eight batters in 71 innings. It just doesn’t happen.
All the more strange, then, for him to find himself standing on the mound in the ninth inning Thursday surrounded by three Milwaukee baserunners, two of whom reached base because he put them there.
Khris Davis’ RBI single scored two runs, gave the Brewers a 4-3 victory at Miller Park and broke the Pirates’ streak of three consecutive series victories.
“He just didn’t have his best stuff,” manager Clint Hurdle said of Melancon. “The walks are uncharacteristic. He’s been here for a while and that’s something we haven’t seen.”
For eight innings, Pirates pitchers controlled the Brewers lineup. Wandy Rodriguez, in his first start major league off the disabled list, performed well, only two solo home runs marring his five innings of work. Tony Sanchez and Gaby Sanchez homered to give the Pirates a lead. Justin Wilson struck out four in two perfect innings. Tony Watson pitched a scoreless eighth, setting the stage for Melancon to protect a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth.
Ryan Braun led off with a single. Melancon walked Jonathan Lucroy on four pitches. He went 3-0 on Mark Reynolds, then fought back to a full count before issuing another walk to load the bases.
“Just pulling it,” Melancon said.
Davis hit a broken-bat single to center field, scoring Braun from third, and Lucroy added the winning run as Andrew McCutchen’s throw was not in time. The Brewers won without Melancon recording an out.
“Two walks aren’t going to bring any red flags to me,” he said.
Melancon (1-2), filling in for the injured Jason Grilli in the closer role, blew his second save. The Pirates have 10 blown saves, the most in baseball, and just nine saves.
“More often than not, a closer doesn’t close, people want to hang him,” Hurdle said. “He goes out there and competes. Nobody feels worse than he does in that clubhouse right now.”
Rodriguez allowed two runs and struck out four. He allowed multiple home runs in a game for the third time in five outings and has allowed a home run in every start.
“I feel like I threw the ball very good, except for I made two mistakes,” he said.
Rodriguez went on the DL April 21 because of inflammation in his right knee. He said the knee was still not 100 percent, but felt good enough for him to pitch and run.
In four starts before his DL stint, Rodriguez had a 7.65 ERA, a .306 opponent batting average and seven home runs allowed in 20 innings. The position players in the Brewers lineup who had faced Rodriguez were batting a combined .313 (46 for 147) against him.
The first inning appeared to be a manifestation of that statistical history. Rickie Weeks doubled, extending his hitting streak to eight games. Jean Segura bunted for a hit to put runners on the corners with nobody out, bringing Braun and Lucroy to the plate.
But Braun bounced back to Rodriguez, who started a 1-6-3 double play, and Lucroy grounded out to third, ending the inning without scoring.
Weeks did more damage in the third, hitting his first home run since July and finished 3 for 4 on the day.
Yovani Gallardo held the Pirates hitless through four innings, but that changed in the fifth. Jose Tabata singled before Tony Sanchez hit his first home run of the season, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
Martin Maldonado tied the score in the bottom of the fifth with a home run to left-center field, his second of the season.
Gaby Sanchez broke the tie in the sixth. He led off the inning by driving a first-pitch fastball for an opposite-field home run, his fourth of the season.
The Pirates (17-23) head to New York this weekend to face the Yankees in interleague play.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 15, 2014 4:20 PM