|Pittsburgh (4-3) «||1||0||5||0||0||0||0||1||x||7||14||0|
PITTSBURGH -- If the Houston Astros need advice about handling a poor start, perhaps they should ask the Pittsburgh Pirates. A team accustomed to falling far behind early in a season and never catching up, the Pirates are showing a few encouraging signs of improvement.
Duke limited the struggling Astros to four hits in his third career shutout and LaRoche homered during a five-run third inning, helping the Pirates extend Houston's losing streak to five games with a 7-0 victory Monday.
Sanchez had three doubles, two of them starting run-scoring innings, and the normally slow-starting LaRoche had three hits as the Pirates won their home opener for the first time since 2004.
"It was fabulous, fabulous," said leadoff hitter Nyjer Morgan, who contributed a run-scoring single in the third. "We're playing hard and getting some results."
OK, so the Pirates are a modest 4-3, but they've seen enough to believe they can begin to turn themselves around this year following 16 consecutive losing seasons.
"It's definitely a different feeling in here," LaRoche said. "It's like J.R. [manager John Russell] said, what you need to do as a team is put yourself in position to win, and that's what we've been doing."
And it's not what the Astros are doing. Off to their worst start since 1984, when they also were 1-6, they held a postgame meeting with general manager Ed Wade and manager Cecil Cooper.
They were shut out for the second day in a row -- they lost 3-0 Sunday in St. Louis to complete a three-game Cardinals sweep -- and have scored in only one of their last 28 innings, getting two runs in the ninth inning of an 11-2 loss in St. Louis on Saturday. They're not hitting (.234 team batting average) or pitching (6.45 team ERA).
"It's us. It's not what they're doing," Cooper said, referring to opposing pitchers. "It's what we're doing to ourselves. We're getting ourselves out, we're not putting ourselves in good situations and not swinging at good pitches."
Duke (2-0), coming off a 5-14 season, followed up a 7-4 win at St. Louis on Wednesday in which he gave up one earned run in 6 1/3 innings by pitching even better, striking out five and walking two while throwing 120 pitches. Duke's shutout was the first by a Pirates pitcher in a home opener since John Candelaria beat the Cubs 1-0 on April 7, 1978.
"I can throw my pitches when I want to right now," said Duke, who lost 10 of his final 11 decisions last season. "I'm healthy and I'm right where I want to be."
The Pirates bounced back from a 2-0 loss to the Reds and Aaron Harang on Sunday with plenty of offense from two players who got off to bad starts a season ago.
Sanchez, hitting in the .220s until batting .346 after the All-Star break last season, doubled with one out in the first and scored on Ryan Doumit's single off Brian Moehler (0-2), who allowed five runs and seven hits over 2 1/3 innings in his second straight rough outing. Moehler has a 27.00 ERA and has lasted only four innings in two starts.
LaRoche went 3-for-4 -- a rare good day in April for a batter who came into the game with the third-worst career batting average (.177) in the month of any National League hitter since 1900, based on 300 plate appearances. Only Dal Maxvill (.174) and Clete Boyer (.175) had lower April averages.
Moehler was lifted with a sprained right knee after giving up Sanchez's second double in three innings, Nate McLouth's RBI single and LaRoche's homer into the right-field seats in the third. Moehler will have an MRI exam on Tuesday.
"It's in a bad spot, it's my push-off leg and I'm just not able to drive the ball like I would like to," Moehler said. "It presents a problem when you're a pitcher."
Doumit added a solo homer in the eighth for the Pirates, who have been either very good or very bad at the plate so far. They have 30 runs and 54 hits in their four wins and four runs and nine hits in their three losses.
|Zach Duke shows off his arm in his second start by recording his third career shutout. (Getty Images)|
|Players of the Game|
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|Kazuo Matsui, 2B||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||.214|
|Geoff Blum, 3B||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.333|
|Miguel Tejada, SS||4||0||2||0||0||0||0||.269|
|Lance Berkman, 1B||4||0||0||0||0||3||2||.167|
|Carlos Lee, LF||4||0||0||0||0||0||1||.192|
|Hunter Pence, RF||3||0||0||0||1||0||0||.308|
|Jason Michaels, CF||4||0||1||0||0||0||1||.143|
|Jeff Keppinger, 3B-2B||2||0||1||0||1||0||0||.556|
|Humberto Quintero, C||3||0||0||0||0||2||3||.000|
|Brian Moehler, P||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Tim Byrdak, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Russ Ortiz, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a- Jason Smith, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Chris Sampson, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Wesley Wright, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|b- Ivan Rodriguez, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.217|
|Geoff Geary, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a-flied out for Ortiz in the 5th|
|b-flied out for Wright in the 8th|
|2B - Miguel Tejada (1, Duke), Jeff Keppinger (1, Duke)|
|Team LOB - 6|
|Brian Moehler (L,0-2)||2.1||7||5||5||1||0||1||27.00|
|Pitches-Strikes - Brian Moehler 45-25, Tim Byrdak 30-16, Russ Ortiz 17-10, Chris Sampson 21-12, Wesley Wright 18-9, Geoff Geary 14-10|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Brian Moehler 1-6, Tim Byrdak 2-0, Russ Ortiz 2-0, Chris Sampson 2-4, Geoff Geary 1-1|
|Batters Faced - Brian Moehler 15, Tim Byrdak 5, Russ Ortiz 4, Chris Sampson 9, Wesley Wright 5, Geoff Geary 4|
|Nyjer Morgan, LF||5||0||1||2||0||1||4||.387|
|Freddy Sanchez, 2B||5||2||3||0||0||0||4||.375|
|Nate McLouth, CF||4||1||1||1||1||0||1||.160|
|Ryan Doumit, C||5||1||2||2||0||1||2||.241|
|Adam LaRoche, 1B||4||1||3||2||1||0||2||.231|
|Brandon Moss, RF||5||0||1||0||0||0||6||.261|
|Ramon Vazquez, 3B||3||1||1||0||1||0||0||.250|
|Jack Wilson, SS||3||1||1||0||1||0||1||.320|
|Zach Duke, P||2||0||1||0||1||0||3||.500|
|2B - Freddy Sanchez 3 (6, Moehler, Moehler, Sampson), Adam LaRoche (1, Geary), Zach Duke (2, Sampson)|
|HR - Ryan Doumit (2, Geary), Adam LaRoche (2, Moehler)|
|SH - Zach Duke (3)|
|RBI - Nyjer Morgan 2 (7), Nate McLouth (6), Ryan Doumit 2 (8), Adam LaRoche 2 (4)|
|2-OUT RBI - Nyjer Morgan 2 (5), Ryan Doumit (5)|
|Team LOB - 11|
|Zach Duke (W,2-0)||9||4||0||0||2||5||0||0.59|
|Pitches-Strikes - Zach Duke 119-78|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Zach Duke 14-8|
|Batters Faced - Zach Duke 33|
|Attendance - 38411|
|Game Time - 2:41|
|Temperature - 53|
|Umpires - Home - Mike Winters, First Base - James Hoye, Second Base - Randy Marsh, Third Base - Brian Knight|