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Thompson, 'pen blank Brewers to earn series split

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Rookie pitcher Aaron Thompson, making his major league debut, shut down the powerful Milwaukee Brewers line-up over 4 1/3 innings, and Pirates bullpen did the rest as Pittsburgh shut out Milwaukee 2-0 Wednesday afternoon. Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen hit sacrifice flies for the Bucs.

Thompson combined with Jason Grilli, Jose Veras and Joel Hanrahan to earn a series split against the Brewers. The Bucs (61-68) blanked the Brewers (78-54) for the first time since August 30, 2005, at Miller Park.

"Man, that was fun to watch," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "A big day for Aaron, and we're proud of him. He stepped in to a difficult situation and he stepped up. It'tl be a day he never forgets."

A 2005 first-round pick of the Marlins who was traded to Washington in 2009 and claimed off waivers by the Pirates this past December, Thompson allowed four hits while filling in for injured starter Kevin Correia, walking two and striking out one in 4.1 scoreless innings. The 24 year-old, shifted into relief work at Double-A Altoona in early June and slotted back in the rotation upon earning a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis in August, threw 40 of his 68 pitches for strikes.

Thompson worked out of jams in the first inning, stranding Corey Hart at third base by getting both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to fly out, and the third, as Fielder swung through an eye-high fastball for Thompson's first career K and Yuniesky Betancourt grounded out, leaving Braun and Casey McGehee on second and first.

"To me, he looked polished out there," Hurdle said. "The biggest thing for me is that he pitched inside. He worked in, he worked away and he changed speeds. I don't think he threw a ball over 90 miles per hour today, but you don't have to have velocity to be effective."

"Some of the big guys don't like it in, and that's something we preached all year from spring training on is to pitch in," Thompson said. "The game plan worked."

"There's other guys watching the game who need to pay attention to that," Hurdle said. "It has been a focus point for over a month. You gotta fight back and you gotta go get what's yours, or what you believe is yours. We need to do more of that."

Thompson got a major assist in the fifth frame from Jason Grilli, who took what was his -- his first major league win in nearly two years.

Jonathan Lucroy singled off Thompson to lead off the inning and took off for second base with Josh Wilson at the plate. Catcher Mike McKenry tried to gun Lucroy out from his knees, but his throw tailed into center field, advancing Lucroy to third base. Wilson walked, and Marcum advanced him into scoring position with a sac bunt.

Hurdle called on Grilli, who quickly fell behind Hart but recovered to strike him out swinging on a 3-2 slider below the knees. Jerry Hairston Jr. grounded out to second base on a low-and-away, 0-2 slider to end the inning.

Grilli's gun-slinging was far from over. The 34-year-old nomad, pitching for his eighth organization after signing with Pittsburgh in late July, didn't allow a base runner while striking out four hitters in 2.2 innings pitched. Grilli cut right through the heart of the Brewers' order in the sixth, fanning both Braun and Fielder swinging on high fastballs.

Grilli (1-0) earned his first big league victory since August 27, 2009, when he was with the Rangers. He didn't throw a major league pitch last year while rehabbing from right knee surgery.

"I don't really like to go back to that moment, but I was on the verge of tears not knowing if I was ever going to put a uniform again," Grilli said, the game ball tucked behind him in his locker. "That was my motivating factor... something that I've worked so hard for, and to get back and work hard and just continue to make the upward climb. So getting in tight spots, I thrive on that. It's enjoyable to me."

"A-Plus, A-Plus," Hurdle said. "You talk about a guy using his fastball and mixing in that slider, keeping it down and using that fastball up tight. Just what we needed to back Aaron up... he had pretty much run his gauntlet of pitches."

"With this being my first one, I would have thrown 200 pitches," Thompson said with a grin. "I didn't care."

Jose Veras set the Brewers down 1-2-3 in the eighth inning. But Joel Hanrahan, who had surrendered six runs over his past four appearances, made the crowd of 18,013 sweat a little in the ninth.

Braun led off with a single on a slider and took second base on fielder's indifference. Hanrahan then walked Fielder on an outside fastball to put runners on first and second for McGehee.

The Hammer nailed the save, however, freezing McGehee on a fastball on the outside corner, punching out Betancourt on high 98 MPH heat and catching Lucroy looking on a slider to end the game.

"Joel just wanted to have a little drama there to keep everyone late," Hurdle quipped.

Marcum surrendered four hits in six innings, but the right-hander didn't have his usually exquisite command and control. He walked three hitters, including Thompson in the third inning, and a wild pitch in the fourth contributed to the Pirates' second run. Josh Harrison, who drilled a high cutter into right-center field for a double, scampered to third base on a curveball in the dirt with McCutchen at the plate and scored on a Neil Walker sac fly to deep left field.

Jose Tabata plated Pittsburgh's first run in the bottom of the first, extending his hitting streak to 10 games by doubling to left field on a curveball, advancing to third base on a Harrison sac bunt and tagging up on a McCutchen sac fly.

The 23-year-old, recently signed to a contract extension that could keep him in Pittsburgh through 2019, finished 2-for-4 on Wednesday and has now reached base at a .439 clip since returning from a DL stint for a quadriceps injury on August 16.

"We played a complete game today," Hurdle said. "We got people on, we moved them and we scored them. We played solid defense and pitched extremely well. I'm proud of the way we finished [the series], because the other two games were a little lopsided."

LUDWICK JOINS LEE ON DL
Outfielder Ryan Ludwick, suffering from muscle spasms in his back, joined fellow trade deadline pickup Derrek Lee on the 15-day disabled list. The move is retroactive to August 23.

The righty-hitting, lefty-throwing 33-year-old, acquired from the Padres on July 31 for a player to be named later or cash, has gotten on base at a .368 clip with the Pirates but has hit for little power, slugging .354 with one home run in 77 plate appearances.

Pedro Ciriaco was supposed to be optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the 25-man roster for Wednesday afternoon's starter, Thompson, but the seldom-used infielder will stay with the big league club following Ludwick's move to the DL.

ON DECK
RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 3.42 ERA) opposes RHP Edwin Jackson (2-2, 4.45 ERA) in St. Louis at 8:15 Eastern Thursday night. Opponents hammered Morton for a combined .335 batting average, a .410 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage in June and July, but the sinkerballer has recovered by holding hitters to a .224/.296/.255 line in August.

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