MILWAUKEE — 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 at Miller Park.
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 with a 5-5 record.
Jeremy Jeffress (2-2) pitched a scoreless eighth, and Matt Albers worked the ninth to pick up his first save. Milwaukee held Pittsburgh to two runs in two of the three 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 5⅓ innings. He walked two and struck out two. He drove in the Brewers’ first run with a two-out single in the fourth after the Pirates intentionally waked Manny Pina.
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," Pittsburgh’ starter Steven Brault said. "Takes a comfortable swing and puts it out there. He was getting me back for getting a hit earlier."
Davies was hit in the hand by a line drive off the bat of Adam Frazier in the second inning, but stayed in the game.
Melky Cabrera had a run-scoring single in the first for the Pirates.
Brault allowed one run and five hits but lasted just 4⅔ 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.
Around the horn
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.
Adrian Houser (2-2, 2.94) is scheduled to make his fourth start of the season on Monday night when Milwaukee begins a four-game series at Cincinnati. Houser is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA as a starter. Tyler Mahle (2-8, 4.35) is slated to start for the Reds.