MILWAUKEE (AP) - Zack Greinke gave the Brewers exactly the performance they needed after a sour stretch.
Greinke struck out 10 over seven effective innings and the Brewers got back to their winning ways at home with a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night to reclaim first place in the NL Central.
``This is the game we needed from him. We talked about it, we needed Zack to have a big game, and he did,' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. ``I think any time you put a challenge to Zack, you're going to see a guy that wants the challenge.'
Greinke (7-2) provided his best performance so far with the Brewers after Milwaukee had lost six of its last eight.
``It's up there,' Greinke said. ``The last six or seven outings felt good just about every time.'
Milwaukee is now a 1/2-game ahead of the Cardinals, who will be without Albert Pujols for the next four-to-six weeks, but Greinke doesn't believe that'll mean much in the standings.
``Albert's probably the best player in baseball, but if any team could get over that, it's probably them,' Greinke said.
Yuniesky Betancourt homered in the second off rookie Jeremy Hellickson (7-6) and Ryan Braun hit a two-run single in the seventh that helped snap Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak.
``We have to do better. We walked way too many guys,' Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Brewers are 26-10 at Miller Park and rebounded from Monday's loss in the opener. They are the only major league team not to lose consecutive games at home this season.
The Brewers blew the game open in the seventh by getting to the Rays' bullpen. After Jonathan Lucroy singled and pinch-hitter Craig Counsell walked, reliever Adam Russell got Rickie Weeks to fly out before departing for J.P. Howell.
But Howell walked pinch-hitter Josh Wilson and Braun followed with his two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, matching a career high. Braun has been dealing with a respiratory infection, and said he still felt ill before the game.
``Braunie's hit, that changed the ballgame,' Roenicke said. ``He's feeling a lot better than he did yesterday, but he's still not feeling real good. I think the energy level was OK during the game, he was talking and there was some conversations, which when he's feeling really bad, he's not going to have those.'
Prince Fielder followed with a run-scoring hit for his 63rd RBI to make it 5-1.
That was plenty for Greinke, who has been dominant at Miller Park. He's 5-0 with a 4.26 ERA and has 52 strikeouts to just two walks at home this season since being part of a six-player trade with Kansas City in December.
The 2009 AL Cy Young winner had come off a disappointing outing by allowing eight runs in a loss to the Cubs in Chicago on Thursday, but struck out at least a batter in every inning, including the side in the third.
``When he's got it going like that, he's a tough guy to face,' B.J. Upton said.
The Rays managed two hits off Greinke until the seventh when Upton doubled with one out and John Jaso followed with a single to cut Milwaukee's lead to 2-1. But Greinke got Reid Brignac to swing on a pitch that bounced in the dirt for his 10th strikeout and forced pinch hitter Sam Fuld to line out to end the inning.
``This is a really good game for him,' Roenicke said. ``His stuff I thought was crisper, fastball was definitely better, just had more life on it in the zone.'
Hellickson allowed only three hits in six innings, but received little support for the third straight outing and couldn't overcome his wild start.
The right-hander walked the bases loaded with one out in the first before Casey McGehee hit a sacrifice fly.
Hellickson then struck out Corey Hart to end the threat, but Betancourt took the second fastball he saw in the second inning over the left-center field wall to make it 2-0.
Notes: Greinke has reached at least 10 strikeouts in a game 12 times in his career. ... Greinke is the 10th pitcher this season to strike out at least 10 batters without a walk. ... Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey returned to the team Tuesday. He missed Monday's game because his house sustained significant fire damage in Florida. ... The Brewers said after the game RHP Shaun Marcum (hip) will make his scheduled start on Wednesday, but will limit his innings.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved