Johnny Cueto kept the Pirates grounded Friday night.
Most everything the Pirates put in play stayed in the infield. When they did hit the ball hard, it found the glove of a Cincinnati Reds infielder.
The Pirates offense recorded only one hit against Cueto and the Reds in a 6-0 loss in front of 35,730 at PNC Park. Two Reds home runs and rallies in the eighth and ninth innings accounted for their offense. The Pirates have scored seven runs in their past four games and zero or one in three of those.
"We always want to score more runs," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've got more offense in this lineup. They're all aware of that."
Cueto threw eight scoreless innings, walking one and striking out six. He threw 74 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
Cueto made his third start after a strained back muscle forced him to the disabled list for a month. He allowed four runs in 12 innings in his first two starts off the disabled list and carried a career 2.52 ERA against the Pirates into the game.
"We've seen Johnny real good before," Hurdle said.
Unlike the Detroit Tigers pitchers, who amassed sizable strikeout totals in four games against the Pirates, Cueto and the Reds let the Pirates put the ball in play. Cueto recorded 11 ground-ball outs compared to one fly-ball out.
"It was a combination of all of it," Hurdle said. "That cutter came into play and then you saw him throw some slow hooks to start hitters off. The command was excellent. Seventy-fourth pitch, 94 [mph], 99th pitch, 94. Just a combination of velocity, spin, late life and pitching both sides of the plate.
Cueto (3-0) entered the game with a 54.7 percent ground-ball rate, which would rank as the eighth highest in the majors if he had pitched enough innings to qualify.
Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez didn't do much worse, but allowed two solo home runs that made the difference. He pitched seven innings, walking three and striking out five. The loss broke a streak of four consecutive wins for Rodriguez, whose record dropped to 6-3.
"That's a good hitting lineup over there," Hurdle said of the Reds. "They got him for two runs, solo homers."
With a runner on base and one out in the first inning, Cueto hit Andrew McCutchen with the first pitch of the at-bat. McCutchen then slid hard into Zack Cozart, breaking up a double play. Cozart's throw went wild, putting men on first and third, but Travis Snider lined out to second to end the inning.
Last weekend, Cueto drew the ire of Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Garza after Cueto threw a pitch over the head of David DeJesus.
Rodriguez later hit Shin-Soo Choo to put two runners on in the fifth. In the eighth, reliever Mike Zagurski hit Brandon Phillips, who threw up his hands as he walked to first.
Rodriguez allowed two walks and a double in the first three innings, but nothing else. In the fourth, Jay Bruce homered to right-center, giving the Reds a 1-0 lead.
Rodriguez walked Ryan Hanigan and hit Choo in the fifth. Cozart's flyout put runners on the corners for Joey Votto, but Votto also flied out.
Cueto did not allow a hit until the fifth, when Brandon Inge flared a single to left with one out. Clint Barmes then grounded into a double play to erase Inge.
"I think, to the left-handers, it was the changeup [that was effective]," Neil Walker said. "To the righties it was the little slider-cutter [Cueto] has."
After Zagurski hit Phillips in the eighth, Phillips stole second. Bruce's single sent Phillips to third and he scored on a wild pitch.
Todd Frazier then walked, and Derrick Robinson's single scored Bruce.
In the ninth, Zagurski walked three batters, the final of which scored a run with the bases loaded. Bryan Morris walked in another run with two outs in relief of Zagurski.
Zagurski allowed four runs on 4 walks, 3 hits and 3 wild pitches in 12/3 innings. He threw 57 pitches and faced 13 batters and stayed in to allow a taxed bullpen as much rest as possible.
"I think the adrenaline got a little bit the best of him," Hurdle said.
"We tried to get out of there with just using the two guys to give everybody the night off."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 1, 2013 4:00 AM