- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Zach Duke limited the struggling Astros to four hits in his third career shutout and Adam LaRoche homered during a five-run third inning, helping the Pittsburgh Pirates extend Houston’s losing streak to five games with a 7-0 victory Monday.

Freddy 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.

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.

The Astros 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 are 1-6 for the first time since 1984. They 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.

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, who was hitting in the .220s until finally starting to hit in July, 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 while lasting only four innings in two starts.

Moehler was lifted with what the Astros later said was 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.

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.

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.

Notes:@ The Pirates wore replica Pittsburgh Police Department caps in honor of the three policemen who were shot to death April 4. They also wore a police department uniform patch. … Steve Blass threw out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his 50 seasons with the club as a pitcher and broadcaster. … The start was delayed 12 minutes by lengthy pregame ceremonies. … The Pirates had lost six of eight home openers since moving into PNC Park in 2001. … Houston’s Lance Berkman is off to a 4-for-24 start (.167). … Duke pitched his fifth complete game.

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