MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers took the field Sunday afternoon facing their first real adversity of a season that has gone exceedingly well thus far.
Let's just say they flunked the first test.
A lineup missing Ryan Braun and Jean Segura was dominated by Chicago right-hander Jason Hammel, who pitched the Cubs to a4-0 victory before a disappointed sellout crowd of 45,286 at Miller Park.
Hammel took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and exited after seven shutout innings. He allowed three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in boosting his record to 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA.
The outcome might have been the same even with Braun and Segura in the lineup against Hammel, who has been particularly tough this season on right-handed hitters (4 for 44 entering the game).
"He's got a really good fastball that he spots well," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "And his two breaking pitches are really good. His slider and curveball are really good pitches. That was a good outing."
Asked if it would have made any difference had his 18-7 club been at full strength, Roenicke said, "Who knows? It's hard to tell. When a guy has good stuff and he commands a ball like that, you're going to have trouble."
In terms of facing tough pitchers, it won't get any easier for the Brewers in the coming days. They headed for a three-game series in St. Louis, where they will face Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.
Braun isn't expected to play in that series, and Segura is likely to miss at least a game or two.
"We've got to move on," said first baseman Lyle Overbay, who had one of the Brewers' three hits. "We're going to have ups and downs throughout the season. It's just a matter of making sure we stick together and ride it out.
"This is putting it to the test. We'll ride on our pitching and get timely hitting. This team is well balanced. Even if we're not hitting (a lot), we can score runs."
Brewers starter Wily Peralta turned in yet another quality start for his club, allowing eight hits and three runs over seven innings, with one walk and six strikeouts. He had a shaky second inning, allowing two runs, including the first of Starlin Castro's two homers, but he settled down afterward to keep his team within striking distance.
"He wasn't as sharp as he's been, but he did a nice job of keeping it to three runs in seven innings," Roenicke said. "If he's not going to be sharp and that's what he does, that's pretty good. He kept us in the game."
Carlos Gomez, whose bobblehead day was ruined by Hammel, collected the Brewers' first hit when he doubled down the left-field line with one out in the sixth. Scooter Gennett followed with a walk and both runners advanced when Hammel threw wildly on a pickoff attempt at second base.
Trailing, 3-0, at the time, the Brewers had a chance to get back in the game. But Hammel would have none of it, striking out Jonathan Lucroy on a fastball off the plate and getting Aramis Ramirez to ground out to third.
"He was tough," Peralta said of Hammel. "He stayed down in the strike zone. You could do nothing about it. He threw 93-94 (mph) the whole game with a good breaking ball. He pitched better and he got the win.
"When you don't have your best stuff, you have to battle out there and give your team a chance to win the ball game. We've been doing that. Our pitching has been doing great, everybody as a team. We try to go deep in our starts every time we go out there."
Now, the Brewers will see if they can prevent a prolonged skid on what figures to be a tough seven-game trip to St. Louis and Cincinnati. They have built a nice cushion but would hate to give back a good portion of it while playing short-handed.
"I think there are important series, but it depends on what your team is doing and where you are in the season," Roenicke said. "An important series is if your team isn't playing well, and you know you need to get back in it. Then, it becomes important.
"Our division has good pitching. We know when we go (to St. Louis) or we go to Cincinnati, we've got good pitching we need to beat. But we feel that we've got good pitching, also, and they're going to have to hit us."
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