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CHC@MIL: Estrada fans nine over 7 2/3 innings

The Brewers hit Cincinnati for a four-game series with baseball's best record (20-8), determined not to let another miserable May drag them down.

Last year, the Brewers were 14-11 in April before going 6-22 in May. This year, catcher Jonathan Lucroy predicted, will be much different. He cited Milwaukee's just-completed series victory in St. Louis, despite the fact the team was missing right fielder Ryan Braun, third baseman Aramis Ramirez and shortstop Jean Segura from the starting lineup.

"We came in here and had to earn those wins," Lucroy said. "When you have your two best power hitters and an All-Star shortstop out of the lineup, and the other guys step up, it is important. They know they can get the job done. They know there are no excuses.

"We showed tenacity. That's important down the stretch. Now it's May. It is important for us not to let up."

Ramirez and Segura should be back in the starting lineup on Thursday against Reds right-hander Homer Bailey, with Braun still day to day. Another right-hander, Marco Estrada, starts for Milwaukee.

It begins a weekend of intriguing pitching matchups. Six of the eight pitchers slated to start (all but Bailey and Mike Leake) have ERAs below 3.00. The Brewers have received a quality start in 22 of their 28 games so far, though Matt Garza's injury-shortened start on Wednesday was not one of them.

"I know that they've had some recent injuries and have continued to play well," Reds manager Bryan Price said of the Brewers. "We knew they were a good team. If you would have polled everyone and asked who had a chance to get off to a good start, it would be Milwaukee -- just having seen them last year and the impact that [Khris] Davis had in left and Scooter Gennett at second base and having Braun back and knowing the other pieces with Segura and Lucroy and that group. They've certainly gotten some performance out of Mark Reynolds, and they added Garza.

"They've put some good pieces together. They're athletic and do good things. To me, this isn't a surprise. They solidified their rotation and their bullpen looks to be improved. But [20-8] is impressive for anybody. We've got our work cut out for us, but we think we're a good team, too."

Brewers: Starters have been strong
Garza is 1-3 with a 5.00 ERA after his start against the Cardinals in Wednesday's 9-3 loss, but the rest of the Brewers' rotation has been sharp. The group entered Wednesday's game third in the Majors with a 2.80 ERA, trailing only the Braves and Cardinals.

The Brewers hope their strong numbers hold. Last May, the starters combined for a 6.78 ERA, worst in the Majors, and worst in the National League by more than 1.25 runs.

"I think we turned the page on that as soon as we could," said right-hander Kyle Lohse, who will start Sunday's series finale. "It definitely killed the season, but you saw how we played in the second half after things settled down a little bit. We turned the page on it a long time ago. In the clubhouse, we're not thinking about that. That's something for everybody else.

"We had a lot of stuff going on. We were struggling keeping guys in the rotation, struggling to keep our 3-4-5 hitters on the field. It's a lot different now than it was."

Reds: Bailey seeking improvement
Thursday's Reds starting pitcher, Homer Bailey, has not got off to a good start to 2014 and would like to turn things around soon. Bailey has one quality start in five outings, while the club is 1-4 when he pitches. He's given up four or more runs in four of his five starts, and he allowed five runs on nine hits over six innings during Friday's 5-4 loss to the Braves.

While Bailey has walked only eight and struck out 29, he is tied for the NL lead with seven home runs allowed. He gave up four in one game to the Pirates.

"Bad pitches typically does it," Bailey said. "It's kind of one of those that I just have to sharpen up just a little bit. One pitch here, one pitch there. I'd probably be a little more worried if I were walking a bunch of guys or getting behind in a lot of counts. It's simple pitch execution. It's what I'm not doing in big situations."

The Brewers have not been kind to Bailey, who is 3-7 with a 5.36 ERA against them in 16 career games.

Worth noting
• Reds closer Aroldis Chapman will start and pitch one inning at Class A Dayton on Thursday for the beginning of his rehab assignment.

• Billy Hamilton's 10 stolen bases entering Wednesday's game were the most by a Reds batter through March and April since Deion Sanders stole 19 bases in the first 25 games of the 1997 season.

• April marked the first month in Brewers history with four extra-innings victories.

• At 20-8, the Brewers became only the fourth team in big league history to earn 20 wins in March and April. Two of the previous three -- the 2003 Yankees and '01 Mariners -- made the postseason. The '08 D-backs also started 20-8 but finished 82-80 and missed the postseason.

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