Cincinnati produced 11 baserunners. But the Reds did not score until Adam Dunn led off the ninth inning with a towering homer, his fifth of the season, to deep right-center. The Reds have scored just 12 total runs in their last five losses.
Five of the first six Pirates batters reached against Reds starter Eric Milton in the first inning. The Pirates scored all of their runs in the first as Jason Bay hit a two-run double and an Adam LaRoche added an RBI single.
After that inning, Milton (0-4) settled down and retired eight in a row and 12 of the final 15 batters he faced. But the left-hander still was removed after 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season.
"It seems like the first inning, I have been struggling with that," said Milton, who has given up a total of six runs in the first inning over his last three starts. "And after that, I just tried to throw up some zeroes and keep the team in the game. Again, we struggled with the bats a little bit."
Narron said he pulled Milton early because of his poor lifetime numbers against Bay, who was due to bat with a runner on second in the fifth. Bay entered the game hitting .429 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 21 at-bats against Milton.
The decision proved wise as Kirk Saarloos and Victor Santos followed with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
"Right there, they got Bay and [slugger Brad Eldred] coming up, and we're going to do everything we can to stay in the ballgame," Narron said. "And Saarloos gave us that opportunity. When you're not scoring a lot of runs and you're not really swinging the bats well, you've got to do everything you can to keep the game close."
A big reason for the Reds' offensive struggles was Pirates starter Ian Snell (2-1), who lowered his ERA to 1.59 after tossing seven scoreless innings.
"I think he's done this to us a few times," said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who had two hits. "He doesn't have a pitch that's just overwhelming. He just throws a lot of different pitches for strikes. He knows how to pitch, and he gives a lot of guys a comfortable 0-for. That's just the sign of a good pitcher who knows what he's doing."
Snell improved to 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA in his career against Cincinnati, which also got two hits each from Alex Gonzalez and Javier Valentin.
Despite being shut out for most of the game, the Reds were hitting the ball hard -- just right at people most of the time. That certainly was evident in the ninth, when the Reds torched struggling Pittsburgh closer Salomon Torres, who would ultimately earn his seventh save.
The first three pitches of the inning were the homer by Dunn, a fly ball to the warning track by Edwin Encarnacion, and a line-drive single up the middle by Valentin.
But the game ended on a couple of sharply hit fly balls to right by pinch-hitter Jeff Conine and Ryan Freel.
"You got some drama there at the end," Hatteberg said. "Having said that, that's the ninth inning. You can't wait around until the ninth all the time. We've got to find ways to get on. I think sometimes when you struggle, you try to do too much early and we get away from the team concept of just getting on base. But a lot of it is just keep grinding at it."