With both the bullpen and the starting pitching struggling recently, the Astros hope the maturation of Rodriguez can be a boost.
“That’s the best I’ve seen him pitch,” catcher Brad Ausmus said. “He did an excellent job of moving in and out with his fastball. He stayed out of the middle of the plate and he used his off-speed pitches effectively, especially his curveball.”
Rodriguez (6-7), whose previous longest outing was 7 2-3 innings, struck out eight, tying a career high, and walked one.
“I just stayed focused and threw the ball where I wanted to throw it and everything came out good,” Rodriguez said through a translator, a huge smile on his face.
All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes failed to run out a ground ball to third that he apparently thought would be foul to end the eighth inning. He was replaced at shortstop by Ruben Gotay in the bottom of the eighth. It was the second time this week that Reyes was removed from a game after failing to run hard on a grounder.
“I took him out for that reason,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “If you can’t hustle, then you sit. That (plate appearance) was pretty self-explanatory. It’s unacceptable. You go out there every day and you play hard or you sit your butt. The key is to play hard all the time.”
Reyes took responsibility for the mistake.
“I thought the ball was going to be foul, but you still have to run,” he said. “It’s my fault there, but that thing can happen to anybody.”
The Mets didn’t get a runner past first base after Carlos Beltran’s first-inning double. Rodriguez allowed a single to Jose Valentin with one out in the sixth before retiring the next eight batters, striking out four of them.
He walked Valentin to start the ninth before Beltran popped out. David Wright grounded into a force out before he was thrown out trying to take second on a ball in the dirt to end the game.
“He did a good job spotting the fastball and keeping us off balance with the curve,” Valentin said. “We got pitches to hit, we just didn’t do anything with them. He just threw a great game.”
Berkman was impressed after watching the performance of his teammate.
“When he locates his fastball, when he’s pitching like he did tonight, controlling both sides of the plate, mixing his off-speed stuff, he’s as good a lefty as there is in the league,” Berkman said. “If he can come out and command his pitches like that, he’s going to be real tough.”
It was the third time the Mets have been shut out this season, and the third shutout for Houston.
Rodriguez, who was plagued by questions about his consistency before the season, is the third lefty in the National League to throw a shutout this season. He hasn’t allowed a run in 16 innings.
“I certainly believe that his confidence level is getting better and better,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “I see him getting more confident. I think he’s got a really good, clear picture in his mind of how he wants to pitch.”
Berkman, who has homered in five of his last 10 games, hit his 15th home run of the season to left field in the fifth inning.
Mets 23-year-old starter Mike Pelfrey (0-7), in his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Sunday, was solid until the fifth inning, giving up just three hits and one run through four.
“I thought he threw well,” Randolph said. “He looks like he’s getting better. We didn’t score any runs for him so he didn’t have a chance to win. He knows he has good stuff, and I see the improvement.”
He walked Brad Ausmus to start the fifth before retiring the next two batters. A run-scoring double by Hunter Pence pushed Houston’s lead to 2-0. The rookie has quickly become a fan favorite, with many fans expressing their affection for him with clever signs. On Friday—a rain-soaked and dreary day— two teenage girls offered a sign that read ‘Hunter Pence: The Only Sunshine in Our Life.’
Berkman followed with his homer to the Crawford Boxes in left field to make it 4-0. On the pitch before the home run, Berkman lost the handle on his bat and it went flying into Houston’s dugout, narrowly missing bench coach Cecil Cooper.
Pelfrey struck five, a career-high, but remains winless in eight starts this season. He walked two and allowed seven hits in six innings.
Craig Biggio’s grounder to center field in the third inning scored Ausmus and put Houston ahead 1-0.
Biggio’s hit was career hit No. 3,012. … Ausmus got his 99th career stolen base in the third inning. … Pelfrey hasn’t won since his second career start on July 18 at Cincinnati.