MILWAUKEE — Brewers rookie Johnny Hellweg took a step back in his on-the-job training as a big league starter.
The 6-foot-9 righty struggled with his command, and the Cincinnati Reds pounced on the mistakes in a 7-3 win Saturday at Miller Park.
Making his fifth career big league start, Hellweg allowed eight hits and four runs over five innings. He hit three batters.
"I didn't get it going as fast as I would have liked to," Hellweg said about his command. "It took me a little bit longer to get into a groove."
Not that he really found it for long spurts. The Reds broke out to a 4-0 lead after two innings.
Carlos Gomez had two hits and an RBI for the Brewers, while Jean Segura stole his NL-leading 43rd base of the season. Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo each hit two-run homers for the Reds, who kept pace in the NL Central race.
Hellweg (1-4) had showed promise in his last start Sept. 7, pitching six innings and allowing four hits and three runs against the Cubs to get his first major league win.
"I was glad he got through the third, fourth and fifth. It was important for him to do that," manager Ron Roenicke said. "But the start, the first two innings – tough again, command all over."
Homer Bailey (11-10) allowed three runs over seven innings in winning his career-best sixth straight decision. Votto had three RBIs, including the towering drive off the right field foul pole in the sixth.
The Brewers loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth trailing by four, but All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman struck out pinch-hitter Jonathan Lucroy.
Chapman walked two but struck out the last two batters in the ninth to finish off his 36th save.
The Pirates won Saturday night to draw even atop the division with the Cardinals, who lost. The Reds are 2 1/2 games behind both teams.
Cincinnati is also trying to fend off Washington in the wild-card race. The Nationals fell 5 1/2 games back after losing to the Phillies.
"Every game, from my perspective, it's as important in April as it is in September," Votto said. "But, we've got a pretty good idea of what's happening around you. You have an idea of who's behind you and who's ahead of you, how many games you need to make up."
Chapman stopped a rally in the eighth to give manager Dusty Baker's club just the spark it needed after having lost three of the previous four.
With two men on, Jeff Bianchi drew a 3-2 walk off reliever Sam LeCure to load the bases for Lucroy.
Baker responded by bringing in Chapman early in the eighth. The last time he faced the hard-throwing closer, on Aug. 16 at Miller Park, Lucroy hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give Milwaukee a 7-6 win.
Same ballpark, different result.
This time, Lucroy swung at a 100 mph heater in the dirt. The ball skipped past the plate and bounced off the backstop, though catcher Devin Mesoraco retrieved it in time to throw out Lucroy at first.
"To repeat something like that, really tough," Roenicke said about Lucroy's chances of success again off Chapman. "At a 101 mph, it's tough."
NOTES: Brewers 3B Aramis Ramirez (left wrist) was unavailable after being hit by a pitch Friday night. He was considered day to day ... Milwaukee is testing different tinting and shading on windows near the roof down the right-field line in an effort to help reduce glare during day games. The team hopes to have its chosen option in place for next season.