Pirates closer Jason Grilli may have redemption on his mind this weekend when the Brewers visit PNC Park, but sees the bigger picture, too.
If the Pirates are to compete for a division title, they'll have to take care of business against the NL Central, and in particular, the teams ahead of them. Grilli gave up a pair of ninth-inning home runs the last time Milwaukee visited Pittsburgh, April 17-20, representing a microcosm of their struggles against the division leaders this season.
The Brewers took three of four games from the Pirates that series and are 8-2 against the Bucs overall.
"Of course I want to face them. Anytime a team embarrasses you, you want to go out and do well against them," Grilli said. "But it's not so much revenge as just wanting to do well. I also want to do well against them because, well, they're in first place. It's the team we have to beat."
Pittsburgh will turn to righty Brandon Cumpton Friday night. After posting a 3.38 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in three starts spread across a month-long span, Cumpton was roughed up in his last start, surrendering 10 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Overall, though, the Pirates have been playing better baseball lately.
Pittsburgh has won five of its last seven and 11 of its last 17 games. Following a subpar April, the Pirates went 15-14 in May and are 3-1 in June.
"It was a new challenge, because we got out of the blocks pretty clean each of the first three years I'd been here," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I do think you are prepared for your future through all your past, if you've paid attention. I believe we were paying enough attention that what went on the first six, seven weeks, didn't freak anybody out inside the clubhouse."
The Brewers, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on the division lead despite a 13-15 May. Milwaukee will try to win its second straight behind Kyle Lohse, who dazzled in his last start. Lohse, who has been the Crew's most dependable starter with 10 quality starts in 12 attempts, tossed a three-hit shutout against the Cubs on Sunday. He's 11-2 with a 3.31 ERA in 21 career starts against the Bucs, who he has yet to face this season.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke noted that Lohse has been an important leader for the club, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
"You need your veteran players, the guys you count on, you need them to come through," Roenicke said. "Kyle has come through. He's a guy that pitched great for us last year, he continues to do it this year, and I think he's probably feeling better this year than he did last year."
Pirates: Well-rested Walker to take on Brewers
Neil Walker has been as tough and dependable as any second baseman in baseball.
For Wednesday's series finale against the Padres, Hurdle decided it was time to give Walker a blow after the Pittsburgh native started the first 58 games of the season. That way, he got two days of rest with Thursday's off-day.
"We're also mindful that he played the last two seasons hurt," said Hurdle, citing lower-back stiffness and then a strained right oblique -- both injuries occurring past the midway point of those seasons.
"He's not made of Teflon. He's been on the field a lot. He's been hit [by pitches, 10 times], he plays second and gets knocked down and taken out on slides ... that's a lot of activity, all over the place."
Walker, who leads National League second basemen with 11 homers and all Major Leaguers at the position with 34 RBIs, registered the longest season-opening consecutive games started streak for the Pirates since Jason Bay started the first 79 games of 2007.
Brewers: Gomez returns to site of brawl
Friday will be the first time the Brewers play in Pittsburgh since April 20, the game in which an argument between Carlos Gomez and Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole sparked a bench-clearing brawl.
Two players on each team served suspensions, including Gomez, who was suspended for three games. But the Brewers center fielder said he had no lingering hard feelings.
"I don't even think about it because it's in the past," Gomez said. "I just continue to play. It only matters to go to Pittsburgh and try to win the series or win all three games. I have no hard feelings. We are all professionals and we know how to deal with this stuff. Just play the game right and enjoy it."
• The Brewers started a stretch Wednesday in Minnesota in which they'll play 15 of 18 games on the road.
• Pittsburgh is 22-6 when scoring at least four runs.
• Wednesday's series finale in San Diego ended a string of 16 games in 16 days for the Bucs.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.