CINCINNATI -- Ross Ohlendorf finally is coming around, as are Zach Duke, Paul Maholm and even Charlie Morton in the Pirates' rotation, perhaps soon to be joined by top prospect Brad Lincoln.
Sounds potentially, though tentatively, promising.
Still waiting on that.
Ohlendorf pitched six solid innings, but Major League Baseball's second-least productive team mustered just six hits, all singles, falling silently to Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds, 4-0, Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park.
"We need to get more hits," manager John Russell said in response to a question he has been asked countless times already this season. "That's the bottom line."
Game: Pirates vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (1-8, 8.71) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (4-1, 3.60).
Key matchup: Can the Pirates muster anything off Cueto? On May 11, he breezed to a one-hit shutout in Pittsburgh, striking out eight and facing one batter above the minimum.
Of note: The Pirates rank third in the National League, sixth in Major League Baseball, with 13 home runs from the eighth inning and later. Toronto leads with 21.
The Pirates' team batting average of .238 and their 156 runs now rank 29th of the majors' 30 teams, with only the Houston Astros are lower in both. This also was the seventh time the Pirates have been shut out, third by the Reds. Moreover, they have not scored as many as four runs in back-to-back games since May 14-15, and have not done so with as many as five runs since April 27-28, nearly a month.
Arroyo pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, beating the Pirates for the second time this season -- he held them to a run over seven-plus innings May 10 at PNC Park -- and making it look mostly easy.
On his end, anyway.
"It's tough facing him," Ronny Cedeno, the Pirates' shortstop, said. "He was using his fastball a lot in Pittsburgh, and we were ready for that. Today, he was using his breaking stuff, and he kept us guessing. He's smart. He knows how to pitch."
Arroyo described his pitches as being unpredictable in their movement, even to catcher Ryan Hanigan.
"Sometimes you feel funky out there," Arroyo said, referring mostly to a first inning in which he walked leadoff man Aki Iwamura. "I got out of that, and my command came back. I kind of got on a roll."
Ohlendorf is smart, too, a genuine Ivy Leaguer, but only now is he finding his footing for the season. This was his fifth start, the fourth since missing a month to back spasms, and it looked ominously a bit like the rest in terms of a painful pace, five walks and 53 of 94 pitches for strikes. But he also showed a healthy extra thrust in striking out five and stranding eight.
"After the first two innings, I felt a lot better, like I really hit my stride," Ohlendorf said. "I was able to relax more, trust my stuff more. I was nibbling a little bit the first couple innings, especially with the fastball."
"It was a good step in the right direction," Russell said. "I hope he builds off it."
If he does, the Pirates might finally find a full sense of stability in a rotation that has been alternately trampled and terrific.
Ohlendorf stranded two walks in the first and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the second by giving up a sacrifice fly and benefiting from an out at home to end the inning. On the latter, Hanigan tried to score from second on Miguel Cairo's single to right, but Garrett Jones threw him out, catcher Ryan Doumit applying an acrobatic catch-and-tag.
Cairo created his own RBI in the fifth, homering off Ohlendorf's 1-0 fastball that unfortunately tailed back over the inner part of the plate, and the Reds led, 2-0.
An RBI single by Orlando Cabrera in the sixth padded that, and it would be plenty.
The Pirates mounted one serious threat, loading the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Jones struck out swinging over a 66-mph curve from Daniel Ray Herrera to end it. Jones, the team leader with 30 RBIs, has one in his past seven games.
"We just need to score," left fielder Lastings Milledge said after going 1 for 3 with a walk. "We got shut out tonight. They were the better team. That's about it."
Perhaps the lone bright spot was a 2-for-4 night from Neil Walker, who could make it hard for management to stick to that corner-utility designation he was given upon being promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis this week. He also made a fine, turning play at third base, but later made a throwing error on a slow roller he should have held.
It gets no easier for the offense in the finale tonight: Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto pitched a one-hit shutout at PNC Park May 11.