MILWAUKEE -- Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux chuckled at the mound while chatting to his newest pitching project, Claudio Vargas, who was in quite a jam in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and nobody out.
"No jokes," said Maddux, who tried a little laughter to diffuse the situation. "(I) just reassured him he was going to get out of it and how he was going to get out of it."
Did Vargas ever.
Vargas struck out the next three batters on his way to a career-high 11 over six innings and the Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-3 Wednesday night in the wacky opener of a two-game set.
Vargas (1-0) worked in and out of trouble all night, highlighted by the 28-pitch fourth inning.
"I try to make my pitches and see what happens," said Vargas, who was acquired from Arizona along with Johnny Estrada and Greg Aquino in the offseason for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland and Dave Krynzel. "I never think, 'This guy will get a hit, on board, a double play, a grand slam or a strikeout.' I pitch and deal with what happens."
Bill Hall hit a two-run homer and drove in three runs, but also continued to struggle in center field, committing his fourth error this season.
"Billy's got a bad habit where he's getting the ball in his glove and flipping it out of his glove into his hand," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "He really needs to work on getting the ball and getting his hand in the glove."
Hall's mistake didn't faze Vargas, who finished his evening with two final strikeouts -- Xavier Nady for the second time and Ronny Paulino for the third time -- to end the sixth.
"You've got to give a little bit of credit to Claudio Vargas, he was throwing the ball well," said Jason Bay, who was a single short of hitting for the cycle. "You don't strike out 11 or whatever it was by accident."
Milwaukee, playing another of its 22 straight games against divisional opponents in the NL Central, opened a 3-0 lead in the first against Pirates starter Paul Maholm.
The left-handed Maholm (0-2), who hadn't pitched in a game in a week, gave up an RBI single to Kevin Mench and a two-run homer to Hall, the next batter. Maholm, who gave up five runs and 10 hits and struck out three in six innings, said he left a sinker out over the plate to Hall.
"It's one of those things that happens, but overall I felt good," Maholm said. "It's something to work off of."
Bay answered with a solo drive in the second, the 100th of his career and 99th with Pittsburgh.
But that was the only earned run allowed by Vargas, who Yost said has pitched so well that the Brewers are sticking with a five-man rotation even through off days instead of skipping their fifth starter.
Vargas, who gave five hits, two runs and two walks, showed why Yost has faith in him in the fourth.
After a bloop single by Freddy Sanchez, who returned to the lineup after missing a game with a sore left wrist, Vargas walked Adam LaRoche and Bay to load the bases with nobody out.
Maddux visited Vargas, who then struck out Nady, Paulino and Jose Bautista.
"Lo and behold, it kind of snowballed after he got the first strikeout," Maddux said. "You could just see the confidence just boom right out of his ears. ... That was the turning point in the ballgame right there."
The Pirates, who went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, agreed.
"We've got to find ways, especially in that situation, to at the absolute worse come away with a run," Bay said. "That's what good teams do -- they score more and put teams away when they get a chance and we didn't do it."
The Brewers' plan to give Prince Fielder a day off once a month despite not having a reserve first baseman led to 12-year veteran Damian Miller making his first career start there and fourth ever appearance, the last coming in 2000. His inexperience along with Hall's mistake cost Milwaukee a run in the fifth after three errors on back-to-back plays.
Chris Duffy, who also had an RBI groundout in the seventh, singled hard off Miller's glove, and a pickoff throw by Vargas bounced away from Miller for an error advancing Duffy.
A second attempted pickoff, this time to second base, went into center field where Hall misplayed the ball, allowing Duffy to score to cut Milwaukee's lead to 3-2. Vargas and Hall were charged with errors on the play.
But Hall, along with Miller, made up for their mistakes in the sixth by each driving in a run. Hall said he's also working to stop his bad fielding habit of flipping the ball out of his glove to his throwing hand.
"I used to do in the infield and I couldn't shake it, but I got used to it with that little glove," he said. "With an outfield glove, there's a lot more room for error."
Fielder played first after a double-switch in the seventh. He singled and was caught stealing. ... Bay is the sixth Canadian with at least 100 HRs. Larry Walker leads all Canadians with 368. ... Yost said Miller would catch Thursday's game. ... Brewers RHP Jose Capellan was placed on the minor league restricted list on Wednesday.