PITTSBURGH -- Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker has stopped bracing himself for that one bad inning from Johnny Cueto.
Maybe because it's not coming anymore.
"Early in his career he'd always have that bad one inning where his emotions would get out of whack," Baker said. "But now he's learned to settle himself down."
Cueto struck out four without a walk to improve to 4-0 and lower his ERA to 1.31 despite some early sluggishness due to some back stiffness.
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A pep talk from teammate Bronson Arroyo and a couple of pain relievers settled his nerves. So did help from an offense that seems to perk up whenever its ace is on the mound.
Zack Cozart, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce all homered for Cincinnati, which has won four of five to move over .500 (13-12) for the first time since April 8.
"It's definitely easier when you've got a guy like [Cueto] out there cruising through guys," said Bruce, whose eight homers rank second in the National League. "It's much more comforting."
Nate McLouth, starting in center field in place of an ill Andrew McCutchen, had two hits for the Pirates, but Pittsburgh failed in its bid to win consecutive games for the first time in three weeks.
Cueto has been lights out since the start of the 2011 season. His 2.15 ERA during that span is tops in baseball. He had little trouble with the Pirates, who have started to emerge from an April funk at the plate but couldn't muster much while dealing with Cueto's deceptive movement.
"We haven't done much against him in awhile," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pittsburgh, baseball's lowest-scoring team, had broken out for 25 runs over its past four games. Cueto cooled off the Pirates with the kind of workmanlike performance that's helped him anchor a somewhat shaky staff.
Cincinnati, like Pittsburgh, has spent the opening weeks of the season searching for offense despite having one of the National League's better lineups.
The Reds rank near the bottom of the NL in batting average and runs and have yet to find someone to take some of the pressure off Bruce.
The hitting woes have forced them to get creative. And a little daring worked to perfection in the second when Chris Heisey dropped down a two-out bunt with Bruce on third.
Pitcher Kevin Correia (1-2) dropped to his knees to field it and fired to first but the throw was late, giving Cincinnati the lead.
"That's smart baseball," Bruce said. "There's no way they're getting him out if he laid the bunt down correctly. They weren't waiting for it. They weren't expecting it."
The Reds pushed it to 2-0 in the fourth after Heisey tripled with two outs and Ryan Hanigan followed with a double.
Pittsburgh's best chance to get in it came in the bottom of the inning. McLouth and Neil Walker singled and Pedro Alvarez followed with a sacrifice fly.
Yet, as they've done much of the season, Pittsburgh got a little too greedy on the bases. Garrett Jones tried to score from first on a double by Clint Barmes but was easily cut down by Cozart's relay throw.
"If you hold him up you give Dusty the choice of pitching around [catcher Rod] Barajas and facing the pitcher," Hurdle said. "We trying to be aggressive, sneak a run in there and see how it goes. They executed the play very well."
Pittsburgh got no closer. Cincinnati added a run on Brandon Phillips' RBI single and then put it away in the seventh.
Cozart lined Correia's pitch down the left-field line for his second home run of the season and Stubbs followed with a drive to left-center that sailed over the 410-foot sign that marks the deepest point in PNC Park.
The normally efficient Correia uncharacteristically struggled with his command in a loss to Atlanta on Sunday, walking five batters in just 4 1/3 innings.
Correia's only free pass this time came on an intentional walk to Joey Votto, but he had trouble getting out of innings. Three of the five runs Correia allowed came with two outs. He gave up five runs in seven innings, striking out three.
"You don't have the luxury of giving up a lot of runs [when Cueto's pitching]," Correia said. "He was good. He was good tonight."
Correia fell to 7-2 in his career against the Reds. ... The series continues on Saturday. James McDonald (1-1, 2.97 ERA) gets the start for the Pirates while Mike Leake (0-3, 6.65) goes for Cincinnati. ... Pittsburgh starter Jeff Karstens said his ailing right shoulder is starting to feel better but he still isn't sure when he'll be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list. Karstens hasn't pitched since April 17 ... McCutchen visited the doctors on Friday afternoon and would have been available as a late-game replacement.