Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker and first baseman Joey Votto agreed a week ago to give the slugger a much-needed break on Wednesday against the Pirates.
Turns out, the rest of the Reds' offense took the night off, too.
A.J. Burnett allowed just two hits over seven innings, Matt Hague delivered a two-run double and the Pittsburgh Pirates edged the Reds 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Burnett (4-2) outdueled Johnny Cueto (5-3) on a night Cincinnati managed just four hits, one of them a pinch-hit single by Votto in the ninth. Joel Hanrahan worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth for his 13th save.
"When I go head-to-head with somebody like Burnett, a quality pitcher like him (I enjoy it)," Cueto said. "He throws zeros, I want to throw zeros, and I want to see who wins."
For once, it wasn't Cueto. He has dominated the Pirates throughout his career, coming in with an 11-3 record against Pittsburgh. Cueto pitched well enough to improve to 12-3, his only mistake coming during a brief two-out rally by the Pirates in the sixth.
Neil Walker walked, Garrett Jones singled and both scored when Hague hit a fastball into the gap in right-center.
"It was just one bad pitch and things happened," Cueto said.
Burnett made one bad pitch, too. It just came much earlier. He 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.
Bruce's line drive appeared headed for the right field corner only to have Hague snatch it out of the air just in time.
"Jay hit the heck out of that ball, and that ball could have been down in that corner — but it wasn't," Baker said. "Yeah, we kind of had him reeling there in the very beginning. Then he settled down. We hit some other hard balls off him but just couldn't muster back-to-back — or really any hits."
Cincinnati wouldn't get another baserunner until Stubbs drew a two-out walk in the sixth and its only other hit came on a leadoff single by Heisey in the seventh.
Other than that, Burnett rolled. The former New York Yankee has spearheaded Pittsburgh's resurgent pitching staff that's kept the Pirates at .500 (25-25) 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.
"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."
Burnett hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts and silenced one of the Nationals League's most prolific teams by relying heavily on his fastball.
The bullpen made it stand up. Jason Grilli continued his superb spring by getting out of the eighth with little trouble.
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 boost the Pirates to 15-13 in May, their first winning record in the month 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."
NOTES: Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman, whose hotel room was burglarized during Tuesday's game, did not pitch and was not available for comment ... Pittsburgh rookie SS Jordy Mercer collected his first major league hit with a single off Cueto in the first ... The Reds begin a three-game series in Houston on Friday. Mike Leake (1-5, 5,47 ERA) faces Houston's J.A. Happ (4-4, 4.37) ... 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.