CINCINNATI (AP) — All the Reds could do with Charlie Morton’s pitches was pound them into the ground, just like last time.
The right-hander shut down Cincinnati’s powerful lineup again, throwing a five-hitter for his second career shutout, and Pedro Alvarez hit a three-run homer Wednesday night, leading Pittsburgh to a 5-0 victory that snapped the Pirates’ six-game losing streak.
Morton (5-1) avoided heavy rain for a change and stymied Cincinnati again. He threw a five-hitter for a 6-1 win at Great American Ball Park on April 15, coming within one out of his second career shutout. Jay Bruce homered with two outs in the ninth to end that shutout.
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This time, he faced Fred Lewis with two outs in the ninth. He hit a fly ball that Jose Tabata caught on the warning track in left field to finish it off.
“I almost thought when Fred hit that ball it was going to go out,” said Morton, who threw 69 strikes out of 106 pitches. “I just looked at it and was, ‘Oh, no!’ But Tabata was at the warning track and he caught it.”
Alvarez ended his streak of 15 games without driving in a run when he connected in the fourth off Bronson Arroyo (3-4), who has been prone to homers this season. Andrew McCutchen added a two-run shot in the seventh.
Arroyo has given up 10 homers, accounting for 16 of the 29 runs he’s allowed. Against Morton, there was no margin for error.
“Any way you cut it, when Charlie’s throwing that way against us, you can’t afford to give up a lot of runs,” Arroyo said.
Morton sent the Reds to only their third loss in 14 games. His other shutout was Sept. 30, 2009 at Wrigley Field — the last complete-game shutout by a Pirates pitcher on the road.
Morton has turned into the Pirates’ rainmaker. His start last Thursday against the Dodgers was called after two innings. He was supposed to start Tuesday in Washington, but the game was called because of a threat of rain, pushing him back one day.
Appropriately, he didn’t get through this one without some raindrops. Light rain moved in during the sixth inning, but Morton was in control by then.
“He’s going through a period where he has our number right now,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ll get to him. He’s throwing that sinker and very few breaking balls, and he’s getting ahead of hitters.”
The right-hander’s sinking pitches have gotten the better of Cincinnati’s prolific offense. Morton gets 77 percent of his outs off ground balls, the most in the majors. He kept his infielders busy again on Wednesday — only seven of Cincinnati’s outs came in the air.
“It was good stuff: Ground Chuck,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I’m happy for him. I’m proud of him.”
His latest showing was a big relief for the struggling Pirates, who are familiar with long losing streaks. They had four losing streaks of at least seven games last season, including a 12-game slump in June.
Arroyo gave up five runs in seven innings, becoming the first Reds starter to take a loss since May 3. With Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto back from the disabled list, Reds starters had gone unbeaten during the last 13 games — 8-0 with a 2.37 ERA.
NOTES: It was the third combined shutout by Pirates pitchers this season. The Reds were blanked for only the second time. … Pirates RH Evan Meek, on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, fanned three batters in one inning during a minor league rehab appearance on Tuesday night. Manager Clint Hurdle said the reliever will pitch Friday and Saturday and if there’s no problem, he’ll rejoin the team next week. … Bruce was a late scratch from the Reds’ lineup. He wasn’t feeling well. … Arroyo gave up a pair of singles in the first inning. Reds pitchers have only nine 1-2-3 opening innings in 43 games. … 2B Brandon Phillips extended his hitting streak to nine games.