PITTSBURGH - A.J. Burnett doesn't have a trophy case filled with awards or a closet packed with All-Star jerseys.
The veteran right-hander does, however, own a pair of World Series rings and the scars from a tumultuous career in which he's never seemed to really become the staff ace his high-priced salary demanded.
At least, not until now.
Burnett scattered two hits over seven innings, Matt Hague delivered a two-run double and the Pittsburgh Pirates edged the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on Wednesday night to move back to .500 (25-25).
The Pirates capped off their best May in four years with another solid performance from Burnett (4-2), who has embraced his role as No. 1 starter for a team looking to end 19 years of misery.
"I've been around a long time," Burnett said. "I'm no All-Star, I'm no Cy Young but I've been through the battles. I know what it's like to win. I know what it's like to lose ... I'll do anything I can to help, that's why I'm here."
Next up: Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, Friday, 8:10 p.m.
Burnett, acquired in a February trade with the New York Yankees, escaped a potentially disastrous first inning then settled down to retire 17 straight batters at one point, with only three balls reaching the outfield.
Relying heavily on his fastball, Burnett silenced one of the National League's top offenses by having them repeatedly bang the ball harmlessly into the PNC Park turf.
"He's been very consistent," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think that's one of the things he was looking forward to was coming here and being 'the guy.'"
Joel Hanrahan worked out of a two-on, one-out jam for his 13th save as Pittsburgh ended the month with a 15-13 record, its first winning May since 2008.
"We can pitch," Hurdle said. "Our guys aren't going to back down from anybody that comes up to the plate. We feel very confident with what we're able to do."
Johnny Cueto (5-3) gave up two runs over seven innings, walking four and striking out five while dropping his second straight decision.
"Yes, of course when I go head-to-head with somebody like Burnett, a quality pitcher like him," Cueto said. "He throws zeros, I want to throw zeros, and I want to see who wins."
The Reds managed just four hits as slugger Joey Votto took most of the night off.
The way Burnett was dealing, Votto's presence might not have mattered.
"You see how many balls we topped tonight?" Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "He must've been sinking and moving to top that many balls like that. He threw a real good game against us."
Even if Burnett hardly looked dominant at the beginning of the night. Zack Cozart led off with a ground-rule double then moved to third when Pittsburgh third baseman Pedro Alvarez misplayed a sacrifice bunt by Drew Stubbs.
Burnett quickly settled down, getting out of the jam when Jay Bruce lined to first, Brandon Phillips hit a sacrifice fly to left and Chris Heisey struck out.
Cincinnati wouldn't get another baserunner until Stubbs drew a two-out walk in the sixth and its only other hit against Burnett came on a leadoff single by Heisey in the seventh.
Other than that, Burnett rolled. He has spearheaded Pittsburgh's resurgent pitching staff that's kept the Pirates competitive despite an offense that ranks last in baseball in runs scored.
Save for a woeful outing against the Cardinals on May 2 - when he was lit up for 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings - Burnett's ERA this season is 1.53.
Burnett hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts and silenced surging Cincinnati in a series in which the high-powered Reds failed to hit a single home run after hitting 17 during a seven-game homestand last week.
Cueto, who began the night 11-3 against the Pirates in his career, was just as good. Pittsburgh only got one runner to third through the first five innings before finally breaking through with a two-out rally in the sixth.
Neil Walker walked and Garrett Jones followed with a single. Both scored when Hague - called up from Triple-A Indianapolis less than a week ago - drilled a cut fastball to the gap in right-center. Walker trotted home while Jones raced all the way around from first to give the Pirates the lead.
The bullpen made it stand up though Cincinnati made it interesting in the ninth. Heisey and Votto - who entered as a pinch-hitter after being held out of the lineup for the first time this season to get some rest - both singled with one out against Hanrahan.
The burly closer, however, struck out Miguel Cairo and Ryan Hanigan to complete a 6-3 homestand.
NOTES: The Pirates start a six-game road trip on Friday in Milwaukee. Kevin Correia (1-5, 4.30) faces Randy Wolf (2-5, 5.73) in the opener.