PITTSBURGH — Far from dazzling, Jeff Locke pitched well enough to get a rare victory.
Locke won for only the second time in three major league seasons, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat Cincinnati 3-1 on Saturday night as Reds starter Johnny Cueto left in the fifth inning with a strained right triceps.
After striking out Pedro Alvarez starting the fifth, Cueto threw a first-pitch strike to Travis Snider and then began shaking his right arm. A Reds trainer visited Cueto on the mound, briefly massaged the pitcher’s upper arm, and both then walked to the dugout.
“I believe when I threw a changeup to Alvarez that I felt something in my arm,” Cueto said. “It’s disappointing. I felt really good. I thought I was pitching really good, and I wanted to stay in that game.”
Cueto helped Cincinnati win the NL Central last season, then left the division series opener against San Francisco with an oblique strain that knocked him out for the rest of the series, won by the Giants in five games.
Cueto allowed one run and two hits in 4 1-3 innings with one walk and three strikeouts. He has given up just seven earned runs in his last seven starts in Pittsburgh. He is scheduled to return to Cincinnati today to be examined by team doctors.
“The good thing is that it isn’t the elbow and it isn’t the shoulder,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s in the belly of the triceps so, hopefully, he’ll be OK.”
Alfredo Simon (0-1) relieved Cueto with the score 1-1. Snider reached on an infield single, Clint Barmes singled, and Starling Marte singled with two outs to drive in the go-ahead run.
Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata added an RBI double off the right-center field fence in the seventh against J.J. Hoover.
Locke (1-1), making his 14th big league appearance and 12th start, allowed one run, four hits and four walks in five innings with no strikeouts. His first win was last Oct. 1, when he pitched six innings of one-run ball to beat Atlanta.
“I had a hard time trying to find the strike zone,” said Locke, who has a 2-7 career record. “I got them to hit some balls on the ground when I needed to, and I was fortunate to have some good defense behind me.”
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle liked the way Locke was able to minimize damage.
“He competed and somehow he was able to get the big outs when he needed them,” Hurdle said.
Mark Melancon pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and has not allowed a run in seven innings this season. Jason Grilli finished for his fifth save in as many chances.
“I’m not counting the saves,” said Grilli, getting a chance to be a closer for the first time at age 36. “Everybody is doing their job and there is a lot of confidence in our bullpen right now.”
Cincinnati has lost four in a row, its longest regular-season skid since a five-game streak last Aug. 5-9. The Pirates have won four of five following a 1-5 start.
Zack Cozart had three hits, including a double and his third homer of the season, a solo drive in the third. Andrew McCutchen walked in the fourth and scored on a two-out double by Garrett Jones, who is 7-for-14 in his last four games.
Cincinnati stranded 12 runners and was 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
“You’ve got to execute,” Baker said. “Three times we had runners on second base with no outs and didn’t score them. I can’t stress enough how important it is to execute.”
NOTES: Right-hander Phil Irwin is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and start today for Pittsburgh in place of left-hander Wandy Rodriguez in what would be his major league debut. Rodriguez said he will be unable to start after straining his left hamstring Monday while pitching at Arizona. The Reds will start right-hander Mat Latos (0-0, 4.05), who is 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in seven career starts against Pittsburgh ... Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips was away from the team because of what Baker termed a family matter and also may miss today’s game. ...
Marte’s streak of six straight games with a first-inning hit ended when he struck out. ... Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano is expected to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment with high Class-A Bradenton on Monday. Liriano, who broke a bone in his right upper arm on Christmas, is scheduled to pitch three innings and be on a 50-pitch limit. ... Alvarez was 0-for-2 and is batting .086 with 15 strikeouts in 35 at-bats.