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STL@PIT: Liriano fans six over eight shutout frames

Wednesday presents an opportunity Pittsburgh hasn't had since 1992. A win Tuesday snapped a 20-season streak of losing records, and another Wednesday would clinch the Pirates' first winning season in more than two decades.

In the final meeting of the year between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, the first-place Bucs will pursue their 82nd victory, and try to pull away from the Cardinals and Reds in the National League Central.

"It feels like a dream almost, because we've had a lot of years of losing," said Bucs center fielder Andrew McCutchen. "But we're winning, we continue to get better, it's fun to be a part of it. We're one stop closer every day. We need to continue to do things right, continue to keep winning."

And the Pirates are in good hands as they chase win No. 82, sending Francisco Liriano to the mound in search of a sweep at Miller Park.

The left-hander has turned his career around, posting a 2.57 ERA. Although a broken right arm delayed his season until May 11, Liriano has already reached a career-high 15 victories.

"The injury actually gave him more time to prepare," said Bucs manager Clint Hurdle. "He thought long and hard about the importance of maintaining rhythm -- not just in windup, but stretch as well. He dramatically improved upon that.

"Also, the fastball command improved dramatically in consistency; [he] always had it in spots. Then, everything is coming out of same [arm] slot. He's doing all the things you need to be tremendously successful off the mound."

As the Pirates compete for the Central title, the playoffs all but assured, the Brewers are wrapping up a down year, taking solace in the fact that the losing season has provided opportunities for young players to shine, most notably Wednesday starter Wily Peralta.

"When it's fun is when they get a chance and they do well, and that is fun to watch," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. "It's not fun when they're struggling, because that's our job to try to figure it out and get them to play better." Peralta has seen both sides of that this season, flashing signs of brilliance at times, yet exposing his inexperience at others. The 24-year-old righty went through a stretch in late June and early July in which he allowed just four earned runs over six games, but has also logged six starts with five or more earned runs against him.

Even with the first-year struggles, Peralta and other young players have provided a silver lining for Milwaukee this year.

"If I just look at all the negatives all the time, I'm not going to enjoy it," Roenicke said. "Whatever it can be for us to put our focus on to try to get through a tough season is good. It could be guys going out there and getting the chance to play."

Pirates: Grilli makes surprise return to Bucs
Reliever Jason Grilli unexpectedly returned to the Pirates on Tuesday, recalled from his Minor League rehab assignment early. He was originally scheduled to make two more rehab appearances this week, but was activated for Tuesday's game in Milwaukee.

Hurdle said Grilli will pitch in a few non-leverage outings before reclaiming his role as the club's closer.

"If I want to get out big league hitters, I've got to face them," Grilli said. "I think I showed my arm is where it needs to be. There was not much else to prove."

Brewers: Top prospect Nelson joins Milwaukee 'pen
The Brewers called up right-hander Jimmy Nelson, rated Milwaukee's top prospect by MLB.com, Tuesday, sliding him into a relief role for the final month of the season.

"It's something I've worked for for a long time," Nelson said. "It still hasn't hit me."

Nelson was 10-10 with a 3.25 ERA through 27 starts with Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville this season. Nelson was unavailable Tuesday after making his last Triple-A start Friday, but will available beginning Wednesday for his Major League debut.

Worth noting
• Pittsburgh is 11-6 this year against Milwaukee, winning the season series for the first time since 2006.

• The Pirates extended their road home runs total to 77 with Travis Snider's go-ahead shot Tuesday, moving them into a tie with Atlanta for the NL lead.

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