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MIL@ATL: Estrada shines on the mound, at the plate

ATLANTA -- While the Braves play for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Brewers are playing for next season. For right-hander Marco Estrada, that meant continuing his spirited bid for a spot in Milwaukee's 2014 starting rotation.

"The starting role, that's the one and only thing I want to do," Estrada said after blanking the Braves on Monday night. "There's nothing else I would rather do than start. Hopefully, I've showed them that I belong as a starter."

Estrada delivered as many hits -- two -- as he surrendered in seven scoreless innings, and Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez all homered in the Brewers' 5-0 win over the Braves at Turner Field.

Gomez hit a solo home run in the first inning, Lucroy an opposite-field, two-run shot in the fifth and Ramirez a solo homer in the eighth to chop the Braves, who were a day removed from clinching the National League East and rested several of their regulars.

The Brewers, meanwhile, are bidding to finish their disappointing season strong, with Estrada helping to lead the way. After limiting Atlanta to a pair of singles in seven scoreless innings, with three walks and six strikeouts, the right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.26 ERA in eight starts since a two-month stint on the disabled list with hamstring and back injuries.

"I was trying to do the same early on, and some things were off," Estrada said. "Since I've been back, I feel a little more comfortable, the mechanics have been better."

In the early innings on a perfect night, the problem was less about his mechanics and more about tempo. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz pulled Estrada aside after the first inning and suggested a quicker pace, which Estrada was able to establish beginning in the third.

In the fourth inning, pitching with a 1-0 lead thanks to Gomez's first-inning home run off Braves starter Mike Minor, Estrada saved his outing with a critical escape. After Atlanta's Jordan Schafer singled and stole second base, Justin Upton walked. But Estrada struck out three consecutive batters, including Evan Gattis and Andrelton Simmons with both runners in scoring position.

All three swung at low changeups.

"He didn't give us anything to hit whenever it mattered, and so tip your cap to him," Gattis said. "I thought he had a good game, and I thought he located pitches well and changed speeds. … The changeup looks like a fastball. It's kind of tough to lay off, especially down in the zone."

Said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez: "He elevated his fastball a couple times and he threw his changeup to both sides of the plate. Then he expands and we expanded right along with him. What I mean by that is he threw some breaking balls in the dirt and we swung at them."

In the seventh inning, with the lead up to 3-0 courtesy of Lucroy's 18th home run, Estrada authored another escape. With a runner at first base and two outs, a curveball struck Braves eight-hole hitter Paul Janish on the left leg, and the Braves prepared to send a pinch-hitter to the plate representing the tying run.

Before they could do so, home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez invoked Rule 6.08(b), deciding that Janish had not made an attempt to evade the pitch. It was ball one, instead. Gonzalez was ejected after arguing, and Janish wound up popping out to end the inning.

"I said something [to Hernandez], like, 'Come on,'" Lucroy said. "He didn't move; he just stuck the knee out, and you can't do that. To me, it was no question. Angel told me: 'That's a tough call to make. No one ever calls it.' I said, 'Yeah, but that one was pretty obvious.'"

"That's a big call," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Important call."

Lucroy helped the Brewers' cause by connecting against Minor for a two-run, opposite-field home run in the top of the fifth inning. It was Lucroy's first homer since the walk-off blast that beat Reds closer Aroldis Chapman at Miller Park on Aug. 16.

"Unbelievable," Lucroy said when informed of his drought. "I haven't really felt that good since then, I don't know why. I kind of cooled off a lot. It felt good to hit a ball hard."

The Brewers tacked on two runs in an eighth inning that included Ramirez's 12th home run and one very lucky break -- a relay throw home from Simmons that glanced off the pitcher's mound and allowed an extra run to score.

Minor took the loss after allowing three runs on eight hits, including a pair of Estrada singles. Minor has either lost or settled for a no-decision in five straight starts.

Estrada has not lost since June 3, the day he strained his left hamstring and went to the DL. He will be arbitration-eligible this winter.

"I hope I've done enough to show them," Estrada said. "Like I've said a million times, I don't want to leave. I want to stay here. I feel comfortable around these guys, and I feel the team is going the right way. I'd love to stick around for a couple more years or whatever they can give me."

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