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Brewers try to keep things percolating against Phillies

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers will have their work cut out for them when they take on Aaron Nola and the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday evening at Miller Park, but you can bet they'll keep at least one eye on the out-of-town scoreboard.

Milwaukee maintained its 5 1/2-game lead over second-place Chicago in the National League Central on Friday night with a 9-6 victory over Philadelphia.

With the Brewers looking to lock down their first playoff berth in six years, the reality of being in a pennant race is starting to sink in. Most of the young Brewers have never been in the position.

"You're always paying attention," said shortstop Orlando Arcia, who hit his ninth home run of the season on Friday. "But I don't think it'll be a distraction, especially if we keep winning. It's obviously going to be fun to watch the other teams, what they're doing, if we keep doing our thing."

The Brewers have certainly "done their thing" lately. They come into the game having won 10 of their last 12. A big reason for the run has been a lock-down bullpen that kept Philadelphia off the board for 3 2/3 innings Friday night as closer Corey Knebel secured his 15th save of the year.

"They have been a big part of this, for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "The way we've been able to use them and get them rest has been important. There will be stretches where you can't do that. It's unavoidable. But certainly when we get them fresh and get them rest, they are going to be effective."

Milwaukee's starting pitching has been solid, too, the last few weeks and no starter more than right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who gets the nod Saturday night.

Nelson (8-4, 3.30 ERA) leads the team with 10 quality starts this season and is 6-1 with a 2.56 ERA in his last nine outings with 74 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.

The Phillies, losers in six of their last seven, turn to right-hander Aaron Nola to get them back on track.

Nola shined against the Brewers last season, holding them to a run in 13 innings while going 2-0 in two starts.

He's 6-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts this season but took the loss his last time out despite holding the San Diego Padres to two runs and four hits in eight innings.

Nola throws four pitches but has been leaning hard lately on his two-seam fastball and curveball with sparkling results.

"Back when we played (the Cardinals), Mike Leake pitched against us," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin recalled. "(Pitching coach) Bob McClure asked Nola, 'Did you notice anything about how Leake pitched?' He said, 'Yeah, he didn't throw anything above the knees all day.'

"That made an impression on Nola and he certainly has done that. Threw a couple of different types of curveballs tonight and his changeup is really getting to be a good pitch for him."

Mackanin may need to adjust his lineup slightly against the Brewers after outfielder Aaron Altherr suffered a mild ankle strain running out a fifth-inning double Friday.

"I'm a little sore right now," Altherr said "I've been icing since I've been in (the clubhouse after the game) so we'll just see how it feels tomorrow and just take it from there."

Mackanin said Daniel Nava would be a candidate for the leadoff spot if Altherr has to miss extended time.

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