ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals absorbed another big hit, the news they would be without ace pitcher Chris Carpenter for at least three more months, while getting routed by the Houston Astros.
Matt Albers pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning on short rest for his first major league win and fellow rookie Hunter Pence hit a grand slam for his first career homer in Houston’s 13-0 victory Saturday.
“He really set the tone,” teammate Mark Loretta said of the 24-year-old right-hander. “He was mowing them down. They were taking some swings you don’t usually see them take.
“Yeah we scored 13 runs, but we didn’t need that many to win today.”
The defending World Series champions, in last place in the NL Central, have lost six of seven. They have allowed six or more runs for the 12th time in their first 28 games.
During the rout the team announced that Carpenter will undergo arthroscopic elbow surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that will sideline him at least three months. Carpenter is optimistic he’ll pitch the last two months of the season. Dr. George Paletta, the team physician, said there are no guarantees.
“When he was making progress, it was exciting, the impact he would make on our club,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s a tough break, but it’s not a break that beats you, not unless you allow it to.”
Albers (1-1), pitching on three days’ rest because of Chris Sampson’s sinus problems, allowed three singles in 7 1/3 innings.
“I don’t know if it helped me, but I didn’t feel any different than I would on normal rest,” Albers said. “They say short rest helps your sinker sink a little bit, and maybe it did.”
Carlos Lee broke the game open with a three-run double in the fifth to make it 6-0 off St. Louis starter Kip Wells (1-6).
Luke Scott had a pair of RBI doubles for the Astros, who scored a season-high 13 runs.
Pence, who was called up April 27 to jump start the Astros offense, hit his grand slam off Dennis Dove in the eighth to make it 13-0.
“It happened so fast,” Pence said. “I really didn’t get a chance to do anything but smile and say ‘all right, sweet.’”
Wells, signed to a free agent deal to replace Jeff Weaver in a rebuilt rotation, has lost his last five starts.
“When things aren’t going good, it just seems to snowball,” Wells said. “It’s something you have to overcome.”
Friday, the Cardinals won their first home game since pitcher Josh Hancock’s fatal accident five days earlier with a 3-2 victory over Houston. But in the last seven games they’ve been outscored 51-10.
Earlier in the week, La Russa described the overall play as “fuzzy.”
“We won a game 3-2 is all we’ve done,” the manager said. “Not sharp is a better word. However you want to describe it, we’re not playing well enough.”
The Cardinals’ 11-17 record is the franchise’s worst since an identical start in 1990.