JT Brubaker finds strike zone, leads Pirates past Brewers

Apr. 17—There were fewer than 12,000 people in American Family Field on Friday night, but all of them seemed to be rooting for JT Brubaker to fail.

Funny thing: The louder the noise level grew in the third inning of the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ 6-1 victory against the Milwaukee Brewers, the more confident he felt.

“It was just me feeding off the away crowd,” he said.

It was early in the game — the third inning — and the Brewers had two out, the bases loaded, power-hitting Travis Shaw at the plate and Brubaker trying to recover from hitting the previous two batters.

The count got to 3-2, and while Brubaker was preparing to throw the ninth pitch of the at-bat, he thought, “‘Here’s my best fastball. What are you going to do with it?’ Luckily, he swung and missed.

“That was an awesome moment, even on the road just to hear the electricity from the fans on that 3-2 count.”

Manager Derek Shelton thought it was a good sign for Brubaker, who is only three starts beyond his rookie season.

“For him to step up and execute pitches and execute pitches right there,” Shelton said, “that was a really good sign of maturity for Bru.”

Brubaker had another moment with Shaw, who ended up stranding eight runners overall. This time, with two runners on base, Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman was perfectly positioned behind second base to field Shaw’s 107.8 mph groundball and record the inning-ending force out.

Brubaker pitched one more inning, becoming the first Pirates starter to finish the sixth this season. He allowed only four hits, one run and struck out eight batters. He hit three, but none of them scored.

Brubaker was sharp, but he also had plenty of help from teammates in the field and at the plate.

Before the Brewers scored their only run in the fifth, third baseman Phillip Evans fielded leadoff hitter Luis Urias’ slow roller bare-handed and threw him out.

“I don’t know if he heard me,” Brubaker said, “but as soon as he bare-handed it, I said, ‘Make a play.’ That was pretty awesome to see.”

If Evans doesn’t make that play, the Brewers would have done more damage. Jace Peterson followed with a single and Tyrone Taylor drove him home with a double.

Then, in the sixth, catcher Jacob Stallings threw out Avisail Garcia trying to steal second base.

The biggest pick-me-ups on Brubaker’s behalf were Adam Frazier‘s two-run triple and Bryan Reynolds’ hustling RBI double in the fifth after the pitcher failed to lay down a bunt and ended up striking out.

Frazier raised his lifetime average against the Brewers to .313, with five triples and 34 RBIs.

“He was going three from the first two steps he took,” Shelton said.

Frazier’s success against the Brewers is no accident, the manager said. Some players just feel more comfortable when matched against certain teams.

“If you talk to analysts, they’ll tell you no. If you ask me, yes,” he said of that theory. “There’s no science behind it. But, yes, 100%, that’s a real thing.”

Sandwiched around the fifth inning were home runs by Colin Moran in the second inning and Gregory Polanco in the eighth. It was Polanco’s second home run in three games, and it landed 407 feet from home plate, according to baseballsavant.com.

“He took a really explosive swing. We see the timing coming,” Shelton said.

Brubaker did plenty on his own, especially how he challenged hitters most of the night. In the end, he won his second decision in three starts and lowered his ERA from 1.93 to 1.76.

“I feel like I attacked them, utilized my fastball when I needed to and threw pitches off of that,” he said. “Curveball was working for me. Slider was really working both sides of the plate.

“I felt like I had a lot of (swing and) miss over the outer third and outer half with my slider.”

Added Shelton: “I thought his slider was really good tonight. I think it was the best we’ve seen it.”

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Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaola@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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