Pirates-Brewers Preview

The last time the Milwaukee Brewers began 0-4, they finished 96-66 and celebrated a Central Division title four years ago.

Even so, they'd like to avoid such a start with a win Friday night against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates, who are trying to dodge the same fate as the division rivals begin a three-game series.

After opening with a home series against Colorado, the Brewers don't play another team outside of the Central until May 4, but manager Ron Roenicke isn't placing a particular emphasis on division wins.

"Certainly, our division we know we're going to play more often," Roenicke told MLB's official website. "You'd like to ideally win more games. But you also realize that it is a tough division, and if you can just hang in there in our division and be great against everybody else, you're going to do OK. So yeah, it's important. But more important? I don't know about that."

For the time being, the focus might need to be on retiring some batters. The Rockies scored 20 runs and hit .322, including three home runs in Wednesday's 5-4 loss in 10.

That might present Pittsburgh with just what manager Clint Hurdle is looking for. After Thursday's 3-2 loss in Cincinnati, the Pirates have scored eight runs and are batting .202. Their Nos. 3-5 batters - Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Starling Marte - are a combined 5 for 36 (.139). Judging by their manager's mantra, there won't be any lineup shuffling just yet.

"It's been exciting," Hurdle said. "We've just got to find a way to connect the dots a little better on offense with more consistency. Overreaction is not the proper reaction in sports, or in life."

The Pirates are off to their worst start since going 0-6 in 2006. That season also began in Milwaukee and Cincinnati and ended far from a division title at 67-95.

Milwaukee hasn't been any better offensively with a .220 average and six runs, though it's been without Ryan Braun. The right fielder was out of the lineup Tuesday because of a rib-cage injury but was used as a pinch-hitter Wednesday and could be ready to go after the off day.

That could be bad news for Pirates starter Jeff Locke. Braun is 5 for 17 (.294) with a home run, three doubles and .647 slugging percentage in their matchups. Jonathan Lucroy has been even better at 6 for 13 (.462) with a homer, a double and four walks, though the Milwaukee catcher is 0 for 12 this season.

With Charlie Morton sidelined, Locke earned the No. 4 rotation spot over Vance Worley, though he was 2-2 with a 6.27 ERA in five spring games. The left-hander was effective against Milwaukee in 2014 with a 1-1 record, 2.25 ERA and .154 opponent batting average as part of a 7-6 season with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts.

The Brewers counter with Mike Fiers, who enjoyed plenty of success in his time in the big leagues last season. The right-hander was called up on two separate occasions, first as a reliever in June and then as a starter in August.

Fiers won his first four starts in impressive fashion with a 1.29 ERA and .109 OBA. That fell off some in September and he lost his last three starts, but he never allowed more than three earned runs and finished with a 6-4 record and 2.09 ERA in 10 starts.

He beat the Pirates in his only chance, though he's 2-2 with a 5.61 ERA in five career starts. McCutchen will be eager to break out and has been baseball's most dangerous hitter against Fiers, going 6 for 14 with four home runs. Walker is 5 for 13 with a homer and a double.

The clubs have split 38 games over the past two seasons.

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