PITTSBURGH (AP) - James McDonald didn't have his best stuff on Monday against the Cincinnati Reds.
Then again, neither did the Reds.
Cincinnati couldn't capitalize on a pair of two-on, no-out situations against McDonald, then went down meekly to the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1.
``(McDonald) threw a good game against us,' manager Dusty Baker said. ``We weren't swinging real good against him.'
The Reds have bolted to the top of the NL Central behind a high-powered offense that mashed 17 home runs during a just concluded seven-game homestand that vaulted them into first.
They managed just one extra-base hit against McDonald (4-2), who retired his final 12 batters over eight shutout innings.
``We didn't hit a whole lot of balls hard today off of him,' Cincinnati's Chris Heisey said. ``He did a good job ... he mixes speeds well enough to keep you off-balance.'
Bronson Arroyo (2-3) struggled with his command on a day he needed 79 pitches to record 12 outs. Arroyo gave up four runs on eight hits, walking one and striking out one in his shortest hint of the season.
Pittsburgh's woeful offense jumped on Arroyo quickly, scoring four runs over the first three innings, all coming with two outs.
``One of those days I felt like the ball didn't roll our way a lot,' Arroyo said. ``A couple of balls right over the bag, a blooper, a hard-hit ball that I thought was a decent pitch by (Pedro) Alvarez. We just couldn't get anything going on both sides. ``
Ryan Hanigan had two hits for the Reds, who fell for just the second time in their last 10 games.
Alvarez, Rod Barajas and Neil Walker all had two hits apiece and knocked in a run for the Pirates, who have won a season-high four straight to improve to 24-24.
It was more than enough for McDonald, who struck out five and walked one while matching the longest outing of his career and lowering his ERA to 2.20.
Joel Hanrahan got the final out for his 12th save.
``I like the direction we're headed,' Hurdle said. ``I'm easy to please and hard to satisfy.'
The Pirates have remained competitive despite the most woeful offense in baseball, though they are finally showing signs of life. Pittsburgh posted a season-high 10 runs to complete a sweep of the Cubs on Sunday then followed it up by giving McDonald an early cushion.
Arroyo never really looked comfortable and had trouble working efficiently. Though he avoided walks, Arroyo frequently had to work deep into counts. The Pirates wasted little time pouncing on him, jumping to an early 2-0 lead an RBI double by Alvarez on a 3-2 changeup and a run-scoring single by Garrett Jones.
Walker added an RBI double in the second before Barajas made it 4-0 in the third when he singled home Alvarez.
McDonald didn't let the chance to pitch with a somewhat comfortable lead go to waste. The Pirates came in scoring three runs or less in six of his nine outings this season, one of the major reasons his record has lagged despite the best start of his career.
``"Having a lead it's nice but you can't ease up,' McDonald said. ``As just as quick it was 4-0, it could have been 4-4. You have to just right after them like it's a 1-0 game, 0-0 game.'
The Pirates have worked diligently with McDonald over the last two seasons trying to get him to corral his control issues, believing he has the stuff to become a No. 1 starter down the road.
He appears well on his way and did his best work after getting into a pair of jams.
The Reds put runners on first and second with no outs in the third, but after a visit from pitching coach Ray Searage, McDonald grabbed Drew Stubbs' bunt and fired to third to get the lead runner. He then struck out Wilson Valdez and escaped when Joey Votto flied out to center.
McDonald found himself in the same situation in the fifth and didn't need a pep talk from Searage. Pinch-hitter Mike Costanzo popped to short, Stubbs struck out and Valdez bounced a harmless grounder to third.
``You can't always come through when you want to,' Baker said. ``You want to come through all the time but it happens sometimes.'
It was the last murmur of a threat against McDonald, who breezed through his final three innings, receiving a rousing ovation from the small but vocal crowd at PNC Park while walking into the dugout following the top of the eighth.
NOTES: The Pirates' four-game winning streak is their longest since a four-game run June 21-25, 2011. ... The series continues on Tuesday with Cincinnati's Homer Bailey (3-3, 4.19 ERA) facing Pittsburgh's Charlie Morton (2-5, 4.27).
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