MILWAUKEE -- Eric Milton got stronger with every inning he pitched.
The left-hander bounced back from a shaky first with six scoreless innings and Ryan Freel doubled home the go-ahead run in the eighth as the Cincinnati Reds beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 Friday night.
"I felt my best in the last inning," Milton said. "I just couldn't get loose for some reason."
The loss dropped the Brewers, who have watched their playoff hopes fade while losing nine of 13, a season-high seven games below .500. Earlier in the day, Milwaukee dealt All-Star outfielder Carlos Lee to the Texas Rangers after failing to sign him to a contract extension.
Milwaukee is seven games behind Cincinnati in the wild-card race. The Reds have won 10 of 14 since the All-Star game.
The Brewers got reliever Francisco Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix from the Rangers. Cordero worked a scoreless inning against the Reds. Mench was on the bench late in the game.
Milton (7-6) had allowed four runs or more in five of his last seven outings, but was sharp against the Brewers.
He had a rough first inning when the Brewers pushed across three runs, but then settled down. He held the Brewers to one hit in the next six innings before being lifted for pinch-hitter Chris Denorfia in the eighth.
"It was more important for me to throw up six zeros," Milton said. "That was the big key."
Denorfia singled up the middle with two outs off reliever Matt Wise (5-5) and scored on Freel's double to left.
"You make a mistake to him, and he takes advantage of it," Wise said of his hanging changeup to Freel.
Eddie Guardado worked the ninth and put runners on first and third with one out before getting Tony Graffanino to ground into a double play. Guardado earned his sixth save.
"It's another Reds' win," Guardado said. "It's exciting baseball."
Tomo Ohka, who beat the Reds and Milton in his last start, went five innings and allowed two runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts. He missed more than 2 1/2 months with a right rotator cuff tear, but has gone 1-0 with a 2.50 in three starts since returning to the staff.
"Ohka wasn't nearly as sharp as his last time out," Brewers manager Ned Yost said.
Rick Helling took over to start the sixth, but failed to hold the 3-2 lead as the Reds pushed across one run.
Milton walked with one out and one out later Adam Dunn walked. Milton scored on Ken Griffey Jr's double to the right-field corner and Dunn was thrown out at the plate, colliding with catcher Damian Miller. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Dunn hit the 6-3, 220-pound Miller shoulder high, sending the catcher's mask flying. Miller bounced up and dropped the ball at Dunn's feet and the inning was over.
Milton got one run back with his sacrifice fly in the second.
Dunn doubled, advanced on a groundout and scored, making it 3-2 in the fifth, when he beat the throw home on Encarnacion's grounder to third. Third baseman Cirillo threw high to the first-base side of the plate.
Saturday, the Reds will recall RHP Justin Germano from Triple-A Louisville and designate for assignment OF Dewayne Wise. Germano will start the second game of the weekend series. It will be his first start since Sept. 14, 2004 at Los Angeles for the Padres. ... The Brewers acquired 3B David Bell from the Philadelphia Phillies for minor-league RHP Wilfrido Laureano. ... Brewers placed RHP Jose Capellan on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a right shoulder strain. He is 2-0 in 40 appearances with a 4.29 ERA and no saves. The move is retroactive to July 25. ... With Lee traded, Corey Hart made his first start in left and ninth overall for the Brewers. ... Reds manager Jerry Narron was ejected in the bottom of the second by homeplate umpire Brian Runge for arguing about pitch location. It was his fourth ejection this season. "Watching the game in here (the Reds' clubhouse), I thought the umpiring was better as the game went along," Narron said.