PITTSBURGH -- Returning to PNC Park for the first time since the National League Wild Card Game, Jake Arrieta threw seven scoreless innings and improved to 6-0 in the Cubs' 7-1 win over the Pirates.
Arrieta walked the Pirates' first two hitters Tuesday night, and that was about as bad as it got for the Cubs. Backed by a lineup that racked up 11 hits and five walks, Arrieta held Pittsburgh to two singles, struck out five and at one point retired 15 straight batters.
The NL Pitcher of the Month for April showed no signs of slowing down in May. Arrieta is the first Cubs pitcher with wins in his first six starts of the season since 1908, when Mordecai Brown won each of his first 11 starts.
"The last couple games he struggled with his command." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he righted himself pretty well tonight. I thought, and I don't know this for sure, but he might have backed off velocity-wise to gain command. By the end of the game that ball was moving a lot and you could see some of the takes by Pirate hitters, and they were strikes."
The Cubs, who put up six runs against Pirates starter Jonathon Niese, have won each of Arrieta's last 19 starts, a franchise record. Arrieta is 22-1 with a 0.85 ERA, 39 walks and 184 strikeouts in his last 26 starts, dating back to June 21 of last year.
"He didn't make any mistakes," Pirates outfielder Matt Joyce said. "He really didn't give us anything to hit. When you do that as a pitcher, it makes it really difficult for a hitter."
Arrieta, who shut out the Bucs last October to begin the Cubs' push to the NL Championship Series, helped his own cause in the second. The righty drove in the Cubs' second run against Niese with a line-drive single to center field. Chicago sent nine men to the plate in a four-run fourth inning.
"I recognized early that my sinker had a ton of movement on it," Arrieta said. "It took me a while to figure out my starting point, where I needed to start it to get it to end up where I'd like it. I threw quite a few more four-seamers today. Obviously I wanted to establish early in the game getting ahead of these guys and putting them on the defensive, making them swing the bat."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Arrieta does it all: The Cubs got two runs off Niese in the second inning. The lefty helped the Cubs with a hit batsman and two walks. Anthony Rizzo scored on a groundout and Arrieta helped his own cause with an RBI single.
Adding on: The Cubs tacked on four more runs off Niese in the fourth inning. Niese threw a wild pitch to allow a run to score. Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant had RBI singles and Rizzo smacked an RBI double.
David Freese, second baseman? The Pirates switched out shortstop Jordy Mercer and brought in third baseman Jason Rogers along with pitcher A.J. Schugel in the sixth inning. Sean Rodriguez moved to shortstop, and Freese moved from third to second. Yes, second base. Freese had never played second base in the Majors or Minors.
"Rogers got hit one ball and Freese got hit none," Hurdle said, "so they defended well at the positions they were put in."
One chance: Despite Arrieta's air of invincibility, the Pirates managed to get two runners on base right away. John Jaso and Andrew McCutchen drew back-to-back walks to begin the first inning. Jaso reached third on a fielder's choice grounder by Joyce, but Francisco Cervelli grounded out to end the inning.
"The jersey color. He's got a bigger beard now." -- Jaso, on how Arrieta has changed since he pitched for the Orioles
"I really don't care what he was doing. It's good for him what he's doing. My job is to get those hitters out. Today I didn't do a good job of that." -- Niese
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Cubs are the first team since the 2003 Yankees to start a season without consecutive losses through their first 25 games of the season and the first NL team to do so since the 1999 Braves. Both of those teams lost in the World Series.
This is the fifth time since 1961 a team has won as many as 19 consecutive regular-season games started by one pitcher.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: The Cubs go for the sweep of the Pirates on Wednesday at 11:35 a.m. CT. Lefty Jon Lester (2-1, 1.83 ERA) will make his sixth start of the season. Lester has gone at least seven innings while allowing just one run in four of his last five starts. He is 2-2 with a 1.86 ERA in his career against the Pirates.
Pirates: Coming off a start in which he was in "complete command," according to manager Clint Hurdle, Pirates right-hander Juan Nicasio (3-2, 3.33 ERA) will try to shut down the Cubs' dangerous lineup in the series finale at PNC Park at 12:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Nicasio pitched seven scoreless innings Friday against the Reds, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out a season-high eight.
George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Cubs on Tuesday.