CINCINNATI -- Charlie Morton gave the Pirates what they needed Tuesday night and recalled visions of 2011 in the process.
Morton had enough movement on his sinker to keep the Cincinnati Reds on the ground and off the scoreboard, and his control was good enough to keep them off the bases.
Morton's outing contributed to the Pirates' 4-0 win Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park.
In 5 1/3 scoreless innings, Morton (1-1) did not walk a batter. He allowed three hits and struck out two.
"I think I got a few ground balls and a few very hard-hit balls right at some people," Morton said.
In four starts against the Reds in 2011, Morton pitched two complete games and allowed three earned runs in 29 innings. That was when Morton's ulnar collateral ligament was intact, or at least in better shape than it was in 2012 before his surgery.
Morton cautioned against equating the start with his performance two years ago.
"I think you look at them individually and see what I was doing well," he said.
Morton made his second start back from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery Tuesday night. In his first start off the disabled list, he allowed four runs, two earned, on seven hits, walking one and striking out five.
Morton said he felt good about the movement on his sinker, a point of focus for him between starts, but wanted better location.
"The location's going to get better, the conviction with the pitch is going to get better," he said.
The Pirates evened the series against the Reds at a game apiece. After three quick runs in the first inning, they were held scoreless for the next five, but Morton and the Pirates bullpen held the lead. Tony Watson struck out three in 1 2/3 innings and stranded two men in scoring position.
Starling Marte had two hits, a stolen base and an RBI. The Pirates struck out a season-high 17 times, surpassing the 15 strikeouts May 27 against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers.
Shin-Soo Choo found himself on the receiving end of the first pitch Morton threw. Morton denied intent, but it came one night after Aroldis Chapman threw a fastball up near Neil Walker's head. Two pitches later, a double play erased Choo.
Morton didn't allow another baserunner until the fourth, when Joey Votto singled with two outs.
The Reds had a good chance in the fifth. Todd Frazier singled and Morton hit Xavier Paul to put men on first and second with one out. Pedro Alvarez made a nice play on Devin Mesoraco's slow roller, but the runners advanced to second and third. Jack Hannahan grounded out to end the inning.
Zack Cozart struck out with one out in the sixth, but the ball bounced away from Russell Martin and Cozart reached first. Manager Clint Hurdle replaced Morton with the left-handed Watson, who had allowed one hit to Votto in seven at-bats against him. But Votto doubled to the wall in left, putting men on second before Watson struck out Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce grounded out.
The five innings Mat Latos pitched matched his shortest outing this season. He allowed three runs on three hits, walked three and struck out nine.
Latos (6-1) entered the game with a streak of 21 consecutive regular-season starts without taking a loss, the longest such streak in Reds history. He had allowed seven earned runs and struck out 16 in 19 innings in June, a span of three starts.
Marte started the first with a triple and scored on Martin's infield single. Andrew McCutchen struck out. Martin stole second, contorting himself around both the initial tag and then another swipe as he slid past the bag. Latos walked Garrett Jones and Walker to load the bases for Alvarez, who hit an opposite-field single that reached the wall in left, scoring two runs and giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
Latos faced eight batters in the first inning and threw 32 pitches.
"He sprayed the ball in the first inning like I've never seen him spray the ball," Hurdle said.
After the first, Latos retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, striking out eight. The only Pirate in the next four innings to reach base was Gaby Sanchez, who walked in the fourth.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 19, 2013 2:30 AM