MILWAUKEE (AP) — Eric Thames is figuring out how to excel as a part-time player.
Thames homered leading off the eighth inning to lead the Milwaukee Brewers past the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 on Sunday.
Thames, who has served as a backup first baseman and outfielder this season, entered as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and struck out. Leading off the eighth, he blasted an 0-1 pitch from Pirates reliever Kyle Crick (3-4) to straightaway center, a 432-foot shot that hit just below the scoreboard for his 12th homer of the season. Thames also homered in Milwaukee’s win on Saturday night.
“I told myself in spring training that regardless of what happened in regard to playing time, I was just going to stick to my routine, keep working and good things would happen,” Thames said. “Last year, my thumb got hurt and I wasn’t able to perform as a pinch-hitter. I got so caught up in the results that I spiraled out and didn’t make the (postseason) roster.”
Even though he’s faring better this year, it can still be a struggle to enter a game in the late innings.
“That first at-bat tonight, I felt like I was on Mars,” he said. “It’s tough being a pinch-hitter in the big leagues. You can’t work an at-bat on a reliever who throws 96 with rise and sink and a nasty slide. You have to get something to hit and swing.”
Milwaukee took two of three from its NL Central rival and moved into a first-place tie with the Chicago Cubs, who lost to Cincinnati. The Brewers finished their homestand at 5-5.
Jeremy Jeffress (2-2) pitched a scoreless eighth, and Matt Albers worked the ninth to pick up his first save of the season. Milwaukee held Pittsburgh to two runs in two games.
“They are more than a hitting team,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Milwaukee’s Zach Davies, who had an 8.10 ERA over his previous four starts, allowed one run and six hits in 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two. He also drove in the Brewers’ first run with a two-out single in the fourth after the Pirates intentionally waked Manny Piña.
Melky Cabrera had a run-scoring single in the first for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh’s Steven Brault allowed one run and five hits but lasted just 4 2/3 innings after throwing 97 pitches.
“My misses today were small,” Brault said. “This is a really good lineup. They were able to capitalize on a few mistakes and they were laying off some pretty good pitches.”
Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman had his hitting streak halted at 19 games.
The Brewers will have four players on the NL All-Star team. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, catcher Yasmani Grandal and closer Josh Hader were named to the team on Sunday, joining outfielder Christian Yelich, who was voted in earlier.
The Pirates’ lone representative will be first baseman Josh Bell.
Pirates: C Elias Díaz was checked by a trainer and remained in the game after being called for catcher’s interference in the fifth when Ryan Braun’s bat struck his glove on a swing. Díaz took a foul tip off his right hand later in the game but stayed on after another visit from the trainer. … RHP Chris Archer, who was pulled after four innings from his start on Friday night because of left hip discomfort, will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh on Monday. … C Francisco Cervelli, who is on the injured list with a concussion, continues to await clearance to return to game action. He participated in on-field activities in Milwaukee.
Brewers: Davies was hit in the hand by a line drive off the bat of Adam Frazier in the second inning.
Yelich’s two-out double in the third was his 1,000th career hit.
Davies’ single was his fourth hit in 34 at-bats this season, and the RBI was his second.
“If I don’t get behind him, he can’t take the same swing,” Brault said. “Takes a comfortable swing and puts it out there. He was getting me back for getting a hit earlier.”
Pirates: Trevor Williams (2-2, 4.25 ERA) will make his 12th start of the season as Pittsburgh opens a four-game series at home against the Cubs. Williams is 2-4 with a 3.68 ERA in eight career appearances (six starts) against Chicago.
Brewers: Adrian Houser (2-2, 2.94) will make his fourth start of the season Monday as Milwaukee begins a four-game series at Cincinnati. Houser is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA as a starter.