For the second straight game, the Astros were shut out. On Monday, in the Pirates' home opener, it was Zach Duke who went the distance, with a four-hitter to beat Houston, 7-0, in front of a packed house at PNC Park. That came on the heels of Kyle Lohse's shutout in St. Louis on Sunday.
"Same song," Astros manager Cecil Cooper following his club's fifth straight loss. "We can't seem to get any hits. We can't seem to generate anything. I don't really have an answer right now."
A new-look lineup with right-handed bats Jason Michaels and Jeff Keppinger inserted couldn't get anything going against Duke. A first-inning double by Miguel Tejada was the only hit and the only time a runner reached scoring position until Michaels singled and Keppinger doubled in the seventh. Duke induced the Astros into 14 groundouts.
The middle of the lineup was particularly ineffective. Lance Berkman went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and Carlos Lee also took a collar. Both are hitting under .200 through the team's first seven games, during which the offense has generated only 16 runs.
"Certainly, myself and Carlos have to take the majority of the responsibility," Berkman said. "Neither one of us has swung the bat particularly well in the early going, and that's a big reason why we've struggled. When you're 3-4 guys aren't getting on base and creating opportunities, it's tough on the rest of the lineup. At some point, I expect to not be an albatross on the rest of the lineup and be productive."
In addition to the lack of productivity, the Astros may have some injuries to deal with. Second baseman Kaz Matsui came out of the game in the seventh inning when his back tightened up. Matsui was hopeful it was nothing more than some stiffness and that the day off on Tuesday would help.
The news may not be as good for Monday's starter, Brian Moehler. He came out of the game in the third with a sprained right knee and will have an MRI on Tuesday. Had Moehler not gotten hurt, it's not certain he would have lasted much longer. The Pirates scored a run in the first on a Ryan Doumit single. Then the floodgates opened in the third. After Nate McLouth's RBI single, Adam LaRoche homered off of Moehler to make the score 4-0. When Brandon Moss singled, Moehler exited. Tim Byrdak entered, walked two batters and gave up a two-run single to Nyjer Morgan to close the book on Moehler. The five-run outing actually lowered the veteran's ERA from 37.80 to 27.00.
"I just didn't feel that great, bottom line," Moehler said. "We're not playing too well right now. We didn't hit, we didn't pitch, we didn't score any runs. There's really nothing positive to take out of this day."
Had it not been for two ninth-inning runs in Saturday's 11-2 loss to the Cardinals, the Astros would be looking at three consecutive shutouts. Still, this marked the first time Houston had been victimized by successive shutouts since Sept. 10-11, 2006. Cooper feels he has seen the enemy.
"It's us. It's not what they're doing," Cooper said. "It's what we're doing to ourselves. We're getting ourselves out. We're not putting ourselves in good situations. We're not swinging at good pitches."
Berkman was slightly less harsh, tipping his cap to Duke and Lohse while still taking responsibility for a lack of results.
"We just haven't hit well. That's all there is to it," Berkman said. "Part of it is we've faced some pretty good pitching. It's tough when you're not clicking on all cylinders and you're facing a tough pitcher. It makes for a bad combination. You've seen poor results the last couple of days and really this whole season, we haven't been able to generate much offensively."
Seven games isn't enough to press panic buttons, and that's where having a veteran roster comes in handy. But while the past successes of the hitters still leaves reason for optimism, it's clear the frustration is starting to show.
"It can always get worse," Berkman said. "The resumes the guys on this team suggest it will get better. We believe we will be a good offensive ballclub at some point."
"We're swinging the bats the exact same way we've been swinging since Opening Day," Cooper said. "Veteran players have a way of doing what they do. You have to wait until they figure it out and find it. Meantime, we keep struggling.
"These guys have track records, they all do. So we have to think they will [figure it out]."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.