CINCINNATI -- Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton is getting stronger, as evidenced by an increase in velocity and overall command of his pitches. On Tuesday night, Morton picked up right where he left off at Great American Ball Park, by dominating Cincinnati Reds batters.
Morton, making his second start since coming off the disabled list after offseason elbow surgery, continued his mastery of the Reds on the road by allowing just three hits in 5 1/3 innings, and Pedro Alvarez's two-run single in the first inning provided more than enough run support for Pittsburgh in a 4-0 victory over its National League Central division rival.
Morton (1-1) has given up just one run in his past three starts at Great American Ball Park, including two complete games. He struck out two and did not walk a batter Tuesday.
"He was effective," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "To give us five to six innings against those guys in his second start back in the major leagues, we'll feel good about that and move on."
Morton didn't allow a hit until Joey Votto's single with two outs in the fourth. Morton exited in the sixth after 61 pitches. The Bucs bullpen took over from there.
"I didn't feel any different physically, I don't think," said Morton. "I got some pretty hard hit balls hit at people. I look at each start individually. I've been able to keep the ball on the ground here. My location is only going to get better."
Reds starter Mat Latos (6-1) allowed three runs, all in the first inning, and fanned nine, but his streak of 21 straight starts without a loss came to an end. Latos' previous defeat came on Aug, 24, 2012.
"I'm glad we don't have to talk about it anymore," said Latos of the streak. "I was aggravated with myself. I didn't throw too well in the bullpen and kind of took into the first (inning). I beat myself today. It's always hard when you put your team in a 3-0 hole."
The Pirates, who were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in Monday's series opener, went 3-for-9 in those situations Tuesday, including Starling Marte's RBI single in the seventh inning that capped the scoring.
Pirates left-hander Tony Watson pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing one hit and striking out three. Mike Melancon pitched one inning with two strikeouts, and Jason Grilli fanned three of the four batters he faced in the ninth. "We hit our spots pretty much all night long," said Hurdle.
Votto had two of Cincinnati's four hits, including a double.
Latos needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning. Marte led off with a triple, then scored on Russell Martin's infield hit, putting the Pirates ahead 1-0. After a pair of walks loaded the bases, Alvarez singled into the left-field corner, driving home two runs to make the score 3-0.
"He was all over the place," said Reds manager Dusty Baker of Latos. "He was out of sorts, but he settled down after that. He got his pitch count up, and we had to get him. There wasn't a whole lot of hitting on either side."
Latos responded after his rough start and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, eight via strikeout. He exited after five innings with 88 pitches. "I made an adjustment and I stopped getting aggravated with myself and just pitched," he said.
Things got testy at times on Tuesday night.
Morton hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch leading off the first in what might have been retaliation for a head-high fastball delivered by Reds closer Aroldis Chapman to Neil Walker in the ninth inning of Monday's game. Latos was seen yelling something toward the Pirates dugout after Choo got plunked.
"When you want to be competitive and beat these guys, you push the envelope in a lot of places," said Hurdle. "We need to beat these guys, and the Cardinals."
Pittsburgh won the game, but Latos got the last word. "It's time somebody stepped up and did something about the team that's hit more guys in the league than anybody," he said of the Pirates, who lead the majors with 39 hit batters. "You've got a team drilling guys over and over again. It's time for the league to step up and end it. That fired me up."
NOTES: It was Morton's first victory since May 12, 2012 vs. Houston. ... Reds pitchers tied a season-high with 17 strikeouts. ... Pirates 2B Neil Walker has reached base in 17 straight games at Great American Ball Park. ... Choo has been hit by a pitch 19 times this season, five shy of the club record set by Jason LaRue in 2004. ... Jordy Mercer started at shortstop for the Pirates for the fourth straight game. ... Reds 2B Brandon Phillips had a nine-game hitting streak against Pittsburgh, including seven multi-hit games, before he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Tuesday. ... The Pirates signed Reese McGuire, their top choice and the 14th overall pick in this year's draft. McGuire, a left-handed hitting catcher from Kentwood (Wash.) High School, is being assigned to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates. ... Tuesday's game was only the 68th homerless contest in the 849-game history of Great American Ball Park.