PITTSBURGH - Clint Hurdle knows his Pittsburgh Pirates can't fix their sometimes-anemic offense in nine innings. That didn't stop his players from trying anyway in a 5-0 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.
Looking overmatched at times against Mat Latos and three Reds relievers, the Pirates struck out 17 times.
"You can't get hot in one day," Hurdle said "I saw some big swings up there. ... We start swinging big, we're working to the other team's advantage."
The Associated Press
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker falls over the Reds’ Chris Heisey after throwing the ball to first base.
It certainly was to Latos' advantage. The burly right-hander battled through a stomach virus to give up just two hits over six sharp innings, striking out a career-high 11.
The Pirates appeared to have Latos (2-2) on the ropes early, loading the bases with one out. He wiggled free thanks to a diving grab by third baseman Todd Frazier and a sizzling called third strike on Nate McLouth.
"We had a chance to take the game in a different direction in the first inning and we did not," Hurdle said.
Charlie Morton (1-3) continued to struggle with his sinker, giving up five runs, four earned, in six innings while walking two and striking out five. Morton allowed just six homers last season but gave up two on Sunday as the Reds had little trouble putting the ball in the air.
The right-hander underwent hip surgery in the offseason and started the year on the disabled list. While saying his signature pitch hadn't "abandoned" him, Morton knows something has to change.
"I'm not saying I'm in overhaul [mode], but I've got to tweak something to get my bread and butter back," he said. "That sinker is what I am. It'll come. It's frustrating and it just seems like I'm not where I want to be."
Neither are the Pirates after losing for the fourth time in their last six games to fall four games under .500 at 12-16.
Then again, Latos made life pretty difficult. Feeling lightheaded and chugging Gatorade, he took advantage of the first-inning escape by showing flashes of the pitcher the Reds thought they were getting when they acquired him in an offseason trade with San Diego.
"Sometimes when guys don't feel quite right, a lot of times they throw their best games," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "You settle down, you're concentrating, you try not to overthrow because you don't have the strength to do so."
Baker joked that he kept calling Latos "Michael Jordan" in the dugout between innings and Latos kept reassuring his manager he was OK.
Drew Stubbs had three hits, including a two-run homer, and scored three times for the Reds. Frazier added his first home run of the season as Cincinnati continued its strong play in series finales. The Reds are 8-1 on getaway days, including 5-0 on Sundays.
While Morton is a groundball pitcher, Latos is more of a fireballer, though he's struggled to settle in with the Reds.
The 24-year-old dropped his first two decisions before bouncing back to pitch seven shutout innings against San Francisco on April 24, only to slip against the light-hitting Astros last week, giving up a career-worst 10 hits.
Command has been an issue, and so has the lack of a strikeout pitch for one of baseball's top young arms. Latos came in with 18 strikeouts in 28 innings. It took one game to get his groove back.
Latos struck out four straight at one point, and his only mistakes over his final five innings were a pair of harmless singles.
"He told me [after the game] that he wasn't feeling good," Frazier said. "It didn't look like it on the mound. Good for him. Hopefully he feels like that every time he pitches."
Pittsburgh rode stellar pitching and defense to scratch out a taut 3-2 victory on Saturday but had issues in both departments less than 24 hours later. The Pirates committed a pair of errors - including a botched pickoff attempt by Morton that led to the game's first run - and left nine runners on base.
Notes: Pittsburgh All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen was given the day off. McCutchen is battling the flu and Hurdle said: "He's not in a good place physically." ... Latos' previous career best was 10 strikeouts, which he did three times. ... Pittsburgh is off Monday and continues a nine-game homestand Tuesday against Washington. A.J. Burnett (1-2, 8.04 ERA) starts for the Pirates against Edwin Jackson (1-1, 3.69).