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Milwaukee Brewers beat Houston Astros, Dallas Keuchel

By Andrew Wagner, The Sports Xchange
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/37059ccdc9b8a81eb3b14c35bfe2fea2/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

MILWAUKEE -- Two pitches into his second start of the season, Jimmy Nelson looked like he might be in for a rough day.

Jose Altuve smacked his first offering to the bleachers in left for a home run and George Springer followed with a base hit to right. But Nelson worked out of it, the Milwaukee Brewers' offense mustered just enough run production against defending American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and the bullpen put forth another lockdown effort. As a result, the rebuilding Brewers finished their opening homestead with a 3-3 record after a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros Sunday afternoon at Miller Park.

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"We've played two good teams here," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, referring to the Astros and San Francisco Giants. "Two very solid teams. I thought we played a very good home stand."

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Backup catcher Martin Maldonado helped get Nelson on track early. He caught Springer trying to steal second for the first out of the opening inning -- one of three outs the Astros made on the base paths Sunday.

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Milwaukee's batters did their part in the bottom of the inning drawing four walks off Keuchel. He walked the bases loaded with one out when third baseman Aaron Hill, batting just .125 coming into the game, ripped a single into the gap in right to drive in a pair and give the Brewers a 2-1 lead.

"That was a big hit," Counsell said. "It's tough to get multiple-run innings off (Keuchel) because it's tough to get the ball in the outfield against him. It's ground ball, ground ball, ground ball. He had walked a couple guys but Aaron was aggressive in an RBI situation."

The Brewers added an insurance run in the fourth.

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Yadiel Rivera doubled and moved to third when Nelson, trying to put down a sacrifice, recognized the Astros were putting on a wheel play and instead swung away. He hit a chopper to short, but reached easily when nobody was covering first base.

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The mistake would prove costly. Keuchel struck out Keon Broxton, but Domingo Santana followed with an RBI double, giving the Brewers a 3-1 lead.

"Altuve's responsibility (was) first base, he knows that," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "What changes the play is he gets caught off guard when the pitcher pulls back and swings. Then all of a sudden, everybody stops and when everybody stops, you can naturally go back to your regular responsibility, which for him, would be playing second base.

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"Continuing on would've been the right play to where his responsibility was to first. He knows that and we'll clean up these mistakes. Early in the first week, we've made a few mental mistakes. We're better than that."

Houston got back within a run in the fifth on a solo home run by Preston Tucker, but by then, Nelson was cruising.

He faced one batter in the seventh before giving way to the bullpen, having struck out nine while holding the Astros to two runs on three hits and four walks over six innings of work.

"They had some (at-bats) where they were battling off some good pitches," Nelson said. "That kind of got the pitch count up there. But the bullpen came in and did a great job."

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Tyler Thornburg stranded a runner with back-to-back strikeouts to end the seventh and Michael Blazek got out of a potential jam, leaving a runner at second by retiring Springer and Carlos Correa.

Jeremy Jeffress capped off the relief performance with a perfect ninth inning to earn his third save in as many chances this season.

"It was the whole bullpen, man; a collective effort," said Jeffress, who recorded the final out himself by snaring a come-backer from Tucker. "The way everybody handled themselves -- Thorny and Blazek did an unbelievable job."

Keuchel surpassed his 2015 season high by issuing six walks. He went 5 2/3 innings and allowed six hits while striking out eight.

"I had some good late movement but I couldn't really corral it in the strike zone," Keuchel said. "You've got to credit their guys for laying off and making me come over the plate, but I felt good from right off the bat."

NOTES: Brewers manager Craig Counsell gave C Jonathan Lucroy and 2B Scooter Gennett a day off Sunday, with C Martin Maldonado and INF Yadiel Rivera getting starting nods for the first time this season. ... Astros 3B Luis Valbuena got a day off Sunday as well. He has started the season 5-for-19 at the plate with two RBIs and two runs scored. ... The Astros return to Houston Monday where they will open the home portion of their schedule against Kansas City. ... The Brewers travel to St. Louis, where the Cardinals will host their Opening Day festivities.

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