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MIL@CIN: Aramis hammers a solo homer to deep left

CINCINNATI -- It looks like Mike Fiers and the Brewers are running out of gas.

Fiers didn't make it past the fifth inning for the fifth straight start, and a 4-2 Brewers loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night marked Milwaukee's first back-to-back defeats in nearly five weeks -- a serious blow to its spirited bid for the postseason.

It's the sort of slide the Brewers can ill afford if they want to play past their remaining regular-season games. With three losses in four days, the Brewers have fallen from 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the chase for the National League's second Wild Card to 4 1/2 games back with only eight to play.

"It's not impossible, but we're going to be in a tough situation," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who did his part Tuesday with a slick defensive play in the second inning and a homer that gave the Brewers some hope in the seventh.

Hope is dwindling for the Brewers after they lost Monday's series finale in Washington and Tuesday's opener in Cincinnati. Before those setbacks, they had not dropped consecutive games since Aug. 18-19 at Miller Park against the Phillies.

That's when they took off, winning eight of nine games, 11 of 13 and 25 of 32 to climb from 12 games under .500 to six games over, and within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card as recently as Saturday morning.

It has been a quick fall since then. While the Brewers play the postseason-bound Nationals and Reds, the Cardinals have been beating the cellar-dwelling Cubs and Astros.

Asked to ponder a scenario in which the Brewers fall short of the postseason, Ramirez said, "At least we were playing for something besides finishing strong and putting up good numbers. We were playing to win. We were playing for something, and that's all you can ask for. At this point, it hasn't worked out, but we've still got a chance."

The Brewers gave themselves a chance by playing at what Ramirez called an "unbelievable pace," made all the more unbelievable, he said, in that it came after the Brewers traded Zack Greinke, released Randy Wolf and got hot behind Yovani Gallardo and a slew of rookie starting pitchers.

That group includes Fiers, though he has simply not been the same pitcher since the middle of August.

Both Fiers and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke have dismissed suggestions that the 27-year-old is fading near the end of his longest season to date, but the numbers suggest otherwise. In his first 13 appearances (12 starts) after a late-May promotion from Triple-A, Fiers was electrifying, pitching to a 1.80 ERA and a .218 opponents' batting average, with only 16 walks in 80 innings. In his last nine starts, he has a 6.70 ERA, a .316 opponents' average and has walked 19 batters in 41 2/3 innings.

"My struggles, it [stinks] that it's coming in September," Fiers said. "But I have to live with it, and I have to get better with it."

The issue, Fiers said, is location and not stuff.

"Yeah, I am missing my spots," he said. "My game is to hit spots, keep the ball down and throw it up [in the strike zone] at the right time. Right now, I'm leaving the ball way too much over the plate.

"I guess this month hasn't been the greatest for me, but I'm not going to say that I'm tired. I think I'm just getting beat. I have to make better pitches."

Against the Reds, Fiers still had his good stuff, recording eight of his 13 outs via strikeout, matching his season high for whiffs. But he was touched for four earned runs and nine hits -- including five singles in a two-run second inning that would have been worse had Fiers not induced an inning-ending double-play ball to Ramirez -- and three extra-base hits in a span of four hitters in the fifth inning, knocking him from the game.

The Brewers had just cut their deficit to 2-1 on rookie shortstop Jean Segura's run-scoring single in the top of the fifth when Zack Cozart led off the bottom of the inning against Fiers with a triple. Joey Votto followed with an RBI double and, after Fiers struck out fellow rookie Todd Frazier for the third time, Jay Bruce delivered another double to make it 4-1.

That was all for Fiers, who threw 104 pitches and has worked 3 1/3, five, five, three and 4 1/3 innings in his five September starts. Roenicke indicated no plans to remove Fiers from the rotation, so he will make his final 2012 start on Sunday against the Astros.

"I don't know if it's confidence, the end of the year, I don't know," Roenicke said. "When you come out and see him throw some pitches, you're like, 'All right. He's got it.' But he doesn't repeat it as much as he did earlier."

The Brewers got a run back in the seventh inning, when Ramirez took sole possession of sixth place in Major League history with his 338th home run as a third baseman, but Cincinnati starter Johnny Cueto was otherwise tough. He limited the damage to two runs on five Brewers hits in seven innings for his 19th victory.

"He was working off his fastball a lot," said Reds catcher Dioner Navarro. "He was locating his fastball really good. We throw a lot of fastballs and cutters, and he was on today. He was keeping the ball down. He was making pitches when he needed to be making pitches."

Now the Brewers need to pile up wins.

"We have to win out, I think," Fiers said. "We have to start playing better baseball, and I have to pitch better in my next outing."

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