PITTSBURGH -- In the Pirates' rise toward the top of the National League, it may have been forgotten that the offense has, at times this season, been stifled for days at a time. But the pitching has been so good, both from the rotation and bullpen, that the Bucs ascended to the top of media power rankings and into the national spotlight anyway.
Tuesday night against the Athletics, Pittsburgh's troubling offensive trend continued. Gerrit Cole's strong start was wasted as the Pirates fell to the A's, 2-1, at PNC Park after a rainless rain delay of one hour, 42 minutes before first pitch. The Pirates have now scored 23 runs in their last eight games, dropping six of them, and six runs during this four-game slide.
"We play through and get wins, not much is made of it," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, whose club has won 53 games -- the second most in the NL -- despite the inconsistent offense. "When you don't score runs, everything is always magnified in the game of baseball."
A Pedro Alvarez solo home run in the second was all the offense the Bucs could muster Tuesday, as A's righty Dan Straily turned in his second straight strong outing. He allowed just two hits and three walks while fanning seven over 6 1/3 innings to win his sixth game of the season after tossing seven shutout innings Thursday.
Cole was just as efficient. Sans a changeup he left elevated in the zone to former Pirate Brandon Moss, one of the two-run variety sent over the Clemente Wall in right, his outing may have been considered dominant. He allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings for the longest outing of his six-start career, walking two and striking out four.
Despite turning in possibly the best start of his young career, Cole was understandably upset with the end result -- a Pirates loss. But he said going toe-to-toe with Straily brought out the best in him.
"You want the best out of the other team," Cole said. "Any competitive person will say that. Straily threw the ball really well tonight."
The Pirates threatened in the seventh, when Alvarez walked to start the inning and Russell Martin moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt, trying to take Cole off the hook for his second straight loss after opening his Major League career with four wins.
Lefty Sean Doolittle came in for Straily with one out. Gaby Sanchez, pinch-hitting for Garrett Jones, watched a two-strike breaking ball go by him on the inside corner for the second out. Jordy Mercer then popped out to first.
Tony Watson pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Pirates, and Ryan Cook did the same for Oakland before Grant Balfour secured his 24th save in as many tries.
"There's definitely no panic; we're playing good ball," said Jones, Pittsburgh's first baseman. "The hits haven't come in bunches, but they will. Every team goes through this. We just want to get out of it quick and get back on track."
Moss put the A's in front in the fourth with a two-out, two-run homer to right field. Cole had retired nine straight batters before John Jaso slapped a double to left against a heavy shift, and Moss followed with his 16th dinger of the year.
"You just pick your pitch," said Moss, who hit just 13 home runs in 195 games with the Bucs from 2008-10. "I thought that that would be what he'd use to get ahead or get weak contact with, and I thought it'd be a better pitch to sit on than the fastball.
Cole had just two difficult innings. He loaded the bases in the first but struck out Jaso with a changeup to keep the A's off the board. He also dialed up a double play in both the fifth and sixth innings. He faced three batters in five of his seven frames.
The UCLA product relied on his upper-90s fastball in his first few starts, but he has started to mix in his off-speed stuff more and more. Tuesday, Cole showed the ability to get strikeouts when needed, but he also had innings of four, eight and 10 pitches. He retired 10 hitters on three pitches or fewer.
"We're not going to try to put him in one lane or the other," Hurdle said of Cole's strikeout stuff versus his ability to get quick, efficient outs. "Because I think he's going to have the ability to do both as he continues to grow."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.