Astros shut out Nationals as Backe backs gem from plate

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Brandon Backe loves to bat, slide and play the field. All things being equal, he'd rather be an everyday player than a pitcher.

On Sunday, he was about as close to Mr. Everything as he's ever going to get. He pitched seven-plus innings, went 2-for-3 with a double and scored twice in the Houston Astros' 5-0 victory over the notoriously shutout-prone Washington Nationals.

"I would just love be able to be the everyday player -- diving catches, running into the wall, getting dirty," Backe said. "I'm just sad I didn't get to slide today."

Backe raised his batting average to .345 while lowering his ERA to 4.76. He was so effective at the plate that other players were laying down sacrifice bunts to move their pitcher along. About the only thing he didn't do was execute a squeeze play in the fourth inning, instead fouling the pitch off.

"We feel like we're playing with nine instead of eight," outfielder Carlos Lee said. "Backe's a good hitter."

Ty Wigginton added his eighth homer of the season and Lee had three RBIs for the Astros, who took two of three from the Nationals and finished 4-5 on their road trip leading into the All-Star break.

But back to Backe (6-9), who apparently hasn't heard that pitchers aren't supposed to spend a ton of time on the basepaths on a hot summer day. He supplemented his first multihit game of the year with his best game to date on the mound, allowing only five hits with four walks and five strikeouts. He worked out of jams in the second and third but settled down in the middle innings before he was removed after issuing a walk to lead off the eighth.

"Brandon Backe, Brandon Backe, Brandon Backe, Brandon Backe, that was what we got today," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Two-for-3. Scored a couple of runs. Seven shutout innings. What could you say? He threw over 100 pitches. I thought he was really, really good. That's the Brandon Backe we like."

Backe feasted on the injury-plagued Nationals, who have baseball's worst record and worst offense. They were shut out for the 12th time, most in the majors, and have lost 10 of 13. They sent the minimum number of batters to the plate over the final five innings, their only two runners erased by double plays.

"We need a few more guys to step it up," manager Manny Acta said. "Right now, we're battling on almost every at-bat."

Washington starter Odalis Perez (2-7), whose last outing ended prematurely when he was ejected after arguing a pair of third-inning balks, allowed three runs and nine hits over six innings. Perez enters the break with a respectable 3.71 ERA, but, like many Nationals pitchers, he has suffered from a seasonlong lack of run support.

Backe doubled to left open the third inning and scored on Lance Berkman's two-out single. Berkman then stole second without a throw when the Nationals stopped paying attention to him, a miscue that became costly when Lee singled to center to score Berkman.

Backe's single to left led off the seventh. He was bunted to second, then he and Berkman scored on Lee's two-out single.

"Everybody on the team knows I take pride in hitting," Backe said. "You can't throw the ball all the time and make yourself a better pitcher, but you can always hit. I can't imagine anybody working on it more than me, to be honest with you."

Game notes
Houston first-round draft pick Jason Castro, who agreed to contract terms Saturday, had breakfast with Cooper and visited with the team before the game. ... Perez fell to 0-5 vs. the Astros in seven career starts. The six previous starts had been at Houston.