Pirates 7, Brewers 2

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Jeff Suppan is pitching so well, the Pittsburgh Pirates might not be able to keep him in their rotation much longer.

Aramis Ramirez went 4-for-4 and drove in three runs to support Suppan’s fourth straight winning start and the Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-2 Friday night.

The Pirates, who had lost three of four, scored three times in the third after Glendon Rusch (1-12) quickly retired the first two batters, with Brian Giles hitting a two-run double ahead of Ramirez’s RBI single.

Reggie Sanders had a two-run triple with two outs in the fifth to chase Rusch, who allowed five or more earned runs for the ninth time in 17 starts. Until Rusch allowed five runs and eight hits Friday, the Pirates were the only NL team he had mastered, limiting them to one earned run in 13 innings over two starts.

Suppan (9-7), by contrast, seems to be pitching well no matter which team he faces. He was denied his third complete game in his last four starts, giving up nine hits and two runs in 6 2-3 innings, but already has matched his victory total during his 9-16 season with Kansas City last year.

For the Pirates to keep Suppan in 2004, they must pay him a guaranteed $4 million, a figure that might not fit into their modest budget. As a result, Suppan already is the subject of considerable trade speculation.

“You try not to think about it … but it’s something I went through a little bit last year,” Suppan said. “You hear it and you see it, and at times it’s hard (not to notice) and at times it isn’t. I just try to focus on my next game.”

Suppan is 3-0 against the Brewers, so Milwaukee manager Ned Yost probably wouldn’t mind seeing the right-hander traded before the teams meet again next month.

“You start looking in against him, he’ll throw it outside, you start looking outside and he’ll throw it in,” Yost said. “He really pitches. He’s also got a good changeup. And he does what good pitchers do, he limits the damage.”

What especially helped Suppan was the Pirates’ oft-inconsistent defense.

Center fielder Adam Hyzdu stretched out to make a sprawling catch of Geoff Jenkins’ two-out drive into the gap into right-center to strand a runner in the third. Two innings later, shortstop Jack Wilson ranged far to his left on Scott Podsednik’s grounder up the middle and, while off-balance on the far side of second base, flipped the ball to second baseman Jeff Reboulet to force Eric Young.

“With those two guys (Wilson and Reboulet), I don’t see how anybody hits the ball up the middle against them,” Yost said.

The Pirates also turned two double plays, including one in the seventh just before Mike Lincoln replaced Suppan with the bases loaded and two outs. Lincoln got Brady Clark to ground into an inning-ending force play while pitching 1 1-3 scoreless innings.

Clark came into the game the inning before to replace Jenkins. Jenkins’ lower back stiffened after he leaped over the left-field wall to knock down Ramirez’s long drive leading off the Pirates’ second and hold him to a double.

Jenkins initially had the ball in the top of his glove, but it came out as he struck the ground.

“I came back into the field and it fell out of there,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think I knew I had it. I couldn’t believe I got to it.”

Jenkins was pulled for precautionary reasons and Yost said he should be able to play Saturday after getting treatment.

The Pirates had 13 hits, with Jason Kendall extending his hitting streak to 20 games with a single ahead of Sanders’ triple in the fifth. Earlier this season, Kenny Lofton had a 26-game streak and Ramirez had a 22-game streak for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates are the first major league team in 23 years and the first NL team in 60 years to have at least three players with hitting streaks of 20 games or longer in a season.

Mickey Rivers, Buddy Bell and Al Oliver did so for the 1980 Texas Rangers, while Stan Musial, Harry Walker, Lou Klein and Whitey Kurowski did so for the1943 Cardinals. ^Notes: Suppan struck out two and walked two before being lifted after throwing 111 pitches. It has been a season of streaks for Suppan, who has a pair of four-game winning streaks and a five-game losing streak. …. Suppan is 6-1 in his career against Milwaukee. … It was Ramirez’s third four-hit game this season and the eighth of his career. … Richie Sexson singled in the second to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. … The Pirates have won 19 of 28 fromthe Brewers despite a 4-5 record against them this season.

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