MILWAUKEE — Jordan Lyles limited the Rangers to one hard-fought run over seven innings and Christian Yelich returned to action to a standing ovation after missing a fifth straight start because of a bad back.
But the Brewers had one Minor problem on Sunday: Mike Minor, the Texas left-hander who carved through eight scoreless — and mostly stress-free — innings to send the Brewers to a 1-0 loss at Miller Park that halted Milwaukee’s five-game winning streak.
Minor scattered four hits and a walk while striking out 11 in a performance that denied a sellout crowd the opportunity to voice its support until the eighth inning, when Hernan Perez led off with a double to put the tying runner in scoring position for Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Keston Hiura. Yelich struck out as a pinch hitter in his first plate appearance since his back stiffened in the wake of a two-homer game on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Cain grounded out and Hiura flew out.
It was the Brewers’ best and last threat in a loss that dropped them 2½ games behind the Cubs in the NL Central.
“He was really good,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Minor. “For most of the day, it was three pitches to both sides of the plate and excellent command with all three pitches. I think the Yelich at-bat, where he breaks out some slower curveballs, without throwing maybe one or two before that, is why it was such an impressive game.
“To have feel for that in that situation, in that at-bat — he just kept making pitches. We had plenty of at-bats where guys just weren’t getting pitches to hit.”
The Yelich-Minor matchup was the highlight of the day, an opportunity for a crowd of 44,411 to stretch their legs and exercise their vocal chords.
Counsell said he was going to hit his NL MVP candidate in that spot no matter the outcome of the first batter of the inning, Perez, who got things going with a double. It was Milwaukee’s only extra-base hit.
“I faced him a decent amount when he was with Atlanta,” said Yelich, who entered the day 3-for-11 against Minor. “He’d kind of been going with that cutter a lot to lefties, and I didn’t see it one time. He made some good pitches. Probably the best pitch to hit was the 1-0 breaking ball.”
Yelich took that pitch for a called strike. When he got another two pitches later, Yelich took a mighty cut and missed. Then he fouled off a changeup for strike two before fanning at a fastball away.
Minor was on his way to an escape.
“Before the inning started I saw [Yelich] in the tunnel and I thought he might pinch-hit,” Minor said. “We went over him, went over [Orlando] Arcia, went over [Eric] Thames, just in case that spot came up and they pinch-hit somebody. It worked out for us with the sequences we had. [Yelich] is probably not 100 percent, and that might’ve affected him on a couple of swings.”
“That’s baseball,” Yelich said, “but it was good to be out there again and be healthy.”
Did his appearance mean he’s likely to be back in the lineup on Tuesday against the Twins?
“I mean, it’s looking like it,” Yelich said. “You would have to ask Couns’. But I feel good. It was nice to feel that.”
Lyles took a tough-luck loss after allowing a run on three hits and four walks (one intentional) with nine strikeouts in seven innings. The game’s only run scored after Lyles walked Willie Calhoun leading off the seventh and Rougned Odor ripped a double down the right-field line that ticked off first baseman Yasmani Grandal’s glove. Two batters later, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, whose defensive stop at third base denied Ryan Braun a run-scoring hit in the first inning, lifted a sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.
When the Brewers traded for Lyles two weeks ago, he had a 9.57 ERA over his final nine starts for the Pirates. But he’s been sharp for Milwaukee, allowing three earned runs in 17 innings since the swap.
Said Counsell: “He pitched excellent. He did a great job. He gave us everything he could.”
Following an off day, Milwaukee hosts Minnesota on Tuesday. Right-hander Chase Anderson (5-2, 3.70 ERA) is scheduled to get the ball for the Brewers. Anderson has failed to earn a decision in each of his last four starts.