The Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t counting on Cody Ponce to pitch perfect in his spot start — the way Max Kranick did — but rather to avoid throwing the ball over the middle of the plate against Milwaukee.
Where Kranick batted before he took the mound in his major league debut at St. Louis on Sunday, Ponce didn’t last long enough to take a swing.
The Brewers battered Ponce for five runs in the first two innings on the way to a 11-2 win Saturday afternoon before a season-high crowd of 17,451 at PNC Park, leaving fans to second-guess the decision to send Kranick back to Triple-A Indianapolis instead of making a second start.
It was the 11th consecutive win for the NL Central-leading Brewers (51-33) and the sixth consecutive loss for the last-place Pirates (29-53). Left-hander Eric Lauer (3-3) earned the win after allowing one run on four hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings for the Brewers.
The Brewers scored three runs in the first inning against Ponce, who walked Christian Yelich and gave up a single to Omar Narvaez. Avisail Garcia hit a two-run double to deep left-center for a 2-0 lead, and Jace Peterson followed with a single to right to score Garcia to make it 3-0.
Ponce struck out the first two batters he faced in the second before Yelich hit a ground-rule double that bounced into the left-center seats. Yelich scored when a pop fly to shallow left field dropped between Ke’Bryan Hayes and Ben Gamel, who lost the ball in the sun. Garcia singled to right to score Willy Adames for a 5-0 lead.
That was it for Ponce (0-2), who left the game in the second inning with right arm soreness after allowing five runs on six hits and three walks while throwing 59 pitches (33 for strikes) in 1 2/3 innings. Ponce was replaced by Duane Underwood Jr., who got Peterson to ground out to first, then pitched the next three innings.
Gamel reached on a bunt, advanced to second when Phillip Evans walked and scored on a single to right by rookie out Jared Oliva, who recorded his first major league RBI.
The Brewers left eight runners on base through the first four innings, as Underwood escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third when shortstop Kevin Newman threw out Keston Hiura at home, and Adames grounded into an inning-ending forceout at second.
The Brewers added a pair of runs off Chris Stratton in the sixth, when Peterson singled to score Yelich and Narvaez scored on a wild pitch for a 7-1 lead. The Pirates had runners on first and second with one out for the top of their order in the bottom of the seventh, but Adam Frazier lined out to right and Hayes struck out swinging.
The Brewers scored two more runs in the eighth for a 9-1 lead. Adames led off with a double, reached third on a single by Narvaez — who went 5 for 6 — and scored on Garcia’s grounder through second. An error by Evans on Peterson’s grounder to first allowed Narvaez to score.
Gamel homered to right in the eighth, his fourth of the season and third against the team with which he spent 2019 and ’20, to make it 9-2. In seven games against the Brewers, Gamel is 8 for 19 (.421) with six extra-base hits, five runs scored and three RBIs.
Milwaukee added two more runs in the ninth, on a double by Garica (4 for 6 with five RBIs) and a sacrifice fly by Peterson, who had three RBIs, to increase its lead to 11-2.