- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Johnny Cueto was on his game, and the only thing that the Pirates could do was watch.

Cueto pitched his third career shutout against the team that beat him in the NL wild card game, and Joey Votto hit a two-run homer that led the Cincinnati Reds over the Pirates 4-0 Wednesday for their first winning series this season.

Cueto (1-2) had his way with the lineup that beat him 6-2 at PNC Park in the playoffs. He limited the Pirates to three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out a career-high 12 during his first shutout since 2011.

Several Pirates questioned called third strikes by Quinn Wolcott, a Triple-A umpire called up to the majors. Eight of Cueto’s strikeouts were called.

Cueto kept throwing pitches by the corners while the Pirates watched them go past. They never adapted.

“Adapt, improvise and overcome, absolutely,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And it’s challenging, but sometimes you’ve just got to do it. Our guys knew early on that he had his stuff. We knew coming into the game if he’s on, what we’re going to have to deal with.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make enough adjustments to put anything together, to connect any dots on offense.

Cueto started only 11 games last season because of strained muscles by his pitching shoulder. The right-hander has been solid this season but hasn’t gotten much help from an offense that scored only one run while he was on the mound during his first three starts.

Cueto didn’t need much help on Wednesday, putting the Pirates away with 107 pitches.

“Welcome back, Johnny Cueto,” manager Bryan Price said. “He’s been great his first three starts, and he was dominant today. It was nice to win our first series. Pittsburgh is a handful.”

After the NL Central rivals combined for 13 homers while splitting the first two games, Votto supplied the one that broke open the deciding game.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano (0-3) opened the game by walking Billy Hamilton, who stole second base and came around on two wild pitches. That was it for scoring until the seventh inning, when Cueto singled and Votto hit his fourth homer in six games. Brayan Pena doubled home a run in the eighth.

Liriano and Cueto also were matched in the wild card game last season. Liriano got the better of that one, going seven innings for the victory while Cueto failed to make it through the fourth.

Liriano had trouble at the outset on Wednesday. Ten of his first 13 pitches were balls. He walked Hamilton and Votto opening the inning, then threw the two wild pitches that let in the run.

“My hand was too dry and the ball was slipping out of my hand,” Liriano said. “When I started sweating, my hand felt better.”

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