By BRETT HUSTON
(AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals' offense has sputtered a bit recently, but their starting pitchers generally haven't needed much support to walk away victorious.
That's especially been true for Kyle Lohse.
Lohse won his first two outings and was even better in his third despite not getting a victory, a hot start he'll hope to continue Sunday afternoon as the visiting Cardinals decide their series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis (10-5) averaged an NL-best 5.83 runs while winning nine of its first 12 games, but has totaled only seven while dropping two of its last three.
None of those runs came Saturday, even after the Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning. A.J. Burnett escaped that jam in his Pittsburgh debut and made it through seven strong innings while Pedro Alvarez - off to a 2 for 30 start - drove in both runs in the Pirates' 2-0 win.
"(Burnett) kept rolling," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He had a good day. Times we had opportunities to capitalize we didn't get it done."
St. Louis fell to 9-1 when allowing three runs or fewer, and Lohse (2-0, 0.89 ERA) has taken the ball to start three of those victories. He allowed a run apiece in two road wins to open the season, then held the Reds to four hits in seven scoreless innings Tuesday.
The bullpen couldn't hold Lohse's 1-0 lead, but the Cardinals won 2-1 in 10 innings.
"It's just a shame we couldn't get him a `W' out of that," Matheny said of Lohse. "He was terrific. That's as good as you can ask for anybody."
Lohse was 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA in five starts against Pittsburgh (6-8) last season, but the top of the Pirates' lineup has historically had some success off the right-hander. Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker - Pittsburgh's Nos. 1-4 hitters Saturday - are hitting a combined .424 (25 for 59) against Lohse.
The Pirates are hitting just .179 with runners in scoring position even after Alvarez's two singles Saturday, but lately the Cardinals have joined them in having trouble plating runners.
St. Louis, which was batting .277 in RBI situations through 12 games, is just 2 for 22 with seven strikeouts over the past three. Saturday was the second time the Cardinals - who entered tied for the major league lead with 52 extra-base hits - failed to record anything more than a single.
They'll try to do better against Eric Bedard (0-3, 2.65), who hasn't pitched poorly so far but has struggled with his command. He left after needing 88 pitches to get through five innings in a 4-1 loss at Los Angeles on April 11, then needed 97 to get to the same point Monday at Arizona.
Bedard allowed only three Diamondbacks hits, but four walks played a role in two runs and a 5-1 loss.
"I just didn't throw strikes. I tried to limit the damage and keep the team in the ballgame," Bedard told the Pirates' official website. "It wasn't really a good outing."
Pittsburgh has totaled two runs in Bedard's three starts.
The Cardinals are one of six teams Bedard has never faced, but Matt Holliday has had some good looks against the left-hander. He's 5 for 8 off Bedard, though all of those hits were singles.
Holliday, who's off to a .194 start, is batting .132 (5 for 38) in his last 10 games at PNC Park.
Updated April 21, 2012