Milwaukee Brewers' Eric Thames (7) celebrates his home run with Jesus Aguilar. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
MILWAUKEE -- The City of Milwaukee holds its annual Independence Day celebration the night before July 4, but Eric Thames made sure there would be plenty of fireworks for the 28,881 on hand at Miller Park.
Thames hit a pair of home runs, and Stephen Vogt and Travis Shaw added homers as the Milwaukee Brewers boosted their lead atop the National League Central with a 6-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday afternoon.
"He looks good," manager Craig Counsell said of Thames. "He's swinging the bat well and having very good at-bats."
Thames, who slumped through June, took two days to clear his head at the start of July but has come back strong since, going 4-for-9 with three home runs and three walks without a strikeout.
"I relaxed for a few days," said Thames, who batted .345 with 11 home runs in April but came into the game Tuesday with a .243 average. "I was hanging out with (hitting coach Darnell Coles) a lot and talking mechanics, and I was just able to breathe and let all of the All-Star Game stuff and all the pressure stuff go."
With the Brewers' offense mashing, right-hander Jimmy Nelson (7-4) struck out eight while holding the Orioles to an unearned run and six hits without a walk in seven innings.
"I didn't have my best fastball today, but I was able to throw my off-speed stuff for strikes, especially early in the game," Nelson said. "(Vogt) realized that. We were on the same page, and that was the first time he caught me. That is pretty impressive. He blocks everything, he is tough as nails back there. A lot of credit to him, a lot of credit to our defense, played well."
Baltimore starter Ubaldo Jimenez (3-4) struck out seven over five innings but gave up five runs, three walks and six hits, including the first three Milwaukee homers.
"I felt really good today," Jimenez said. "I wish I could take those pitches back, but there's no way to take them back. They have a good lineup, and they made me pay for my mistakes."
Vogt struck first with a two-run shot in the second, his third since joining the Brewers, and Orlando Arcia made it 3-0 later in the inning with an RBI single.
With one out in the fifth inning, Thames gave the Brewers a 4-0 lead with a solo homer to right-center. After Jimenez struck out Domingo Santana, Shaw connected on a 3-1 offering for his 18th of the year.
Nelson retired the first 13 batters he faced before getting bailed out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth when Caleb Joseph lined out to third hard enough for Shaw to double off the runner at second, Mark Trumbo, to end the inning.
Back-to-back singles by Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop kicked off the seventh inning, and an error by Shaw put runners at second and third with one out.
Joey Rickard came up in place of Trumbo, who left the game with a left calf contusion, and broke the shutout with an RBI single that scored Schoop.
Thames got the run back in the bottom of the inning, sending a 3-1 slider from Tyler Wilson to the bullpen in right field for his third career multi-homer game.
Schoop hit a solo home run with one out in the ninth.
"Things aren't going our way right now, and they haven't been going for us," Machado said. "The only thing we can do is keep grinding it out and keep putting together quality at-bats and pass the baton."
The Brewers now lead the NL Central by 3 1/2 games over the Chicago Cubs.
NOTES: Baltimore optioned RHP Jimmy Yacabonis to Triple-A Norfolk and recalled RHP Tyler Wilson, who worked two innings Tuesday. ... Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he expects LHP Zach Britton to return to the team Wednesday after completing a minor league rehab assignment for a left forearm strain that has kept the All-Star closer sidelined since May 6. ... Brewers 3B Travis Shaw was back in the starting lineup Wednesday, a day after he was hit in the left wrist by a pitch and had to leave the game after two innings. ... Milwaukee was without LF Ryan Braun, who got a scheduled day off according to manager Craig Counsell. ... Showalter said LHP Jayson Aquino will be recalled from Norfolk on Wednesday and start the series finale in place of RHP Chris Tillman, whose wife is expected to give birth in the next few days.