HOUSTON -- The names have changed and the faces have gotten younger in the Astros' lineup in the past few years, and it still doesn't matter to Carlos Zambrano. Even when he's wearing a different uniform himself and isn't considered quite the intimidator he was earlier in his career, there remains something about the Astros that brings out the best in him.
Zambrano, who derailed the Astros' late-season playoff push with a no-hitter four years ago while he was with the Cubs, showed his stuff against a new generation of Astros by throwing a three-hit shutout to send the Marlins to their seventh win in a row, 4-0, on Monday night.
The Astros never managed a runner past first base as Zambrano threw a baffling array of split-fingers, sinkers, cutters and sliders to hand Houston its third shutout loss of the season. Zambrano improved to 17-8 lifetime against the Astros, including 10-4 at Minute Maid Park.
"I feel comfortable in this ballpark for some reason," Zambrano said. "When I used to be with the Cubs, the familiar faces were [Jose] Altuve and Carlos Lee. The rest of the guys, I haven't pitched to them."
Zambrano (1-2) walked one batter and struck out nine while throwing 69 of his 110 pitches for strikes. The Marlins made four double plays behind him, allowing Zambrano to face only two batters over the minimum of 27.
"I had a couple of good pitches my first at-bat, and then I don't think we saw another pitch to hit for a while," Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer said. "He threw really well tonight, kept the ball down and threw the ball in and out and finished us off with a splitty or slider. Hats off to him. He threw outstanding."
Astros manager Brad Mills was asked if he was a believer in a pitcher simply having a team's number.
"It seems like that happens sometimes," he said. "Do I believe in it? I probably don't believe in it until it happens again. This time it seemed like it happened to him again. He threw the ball extremely well today. Yeah, he was effectively wild, is probably the right way to say it. He got behind some hitters, but he was able to come back and throw strikes."
Astros ace Wandy Rodriguez hadn't given up a home run in any of his previous six starts this year before surrendering three to the Marlins. Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run homer in the fourth to break a scoreless tie, former Astros farmhand John Buck hit a leadoff homer in the fifth and Hanley Ramirez started the ninth with a 402-foot homer to left.
"That's what happens when I miss my location," Rodriguez said. "I faced a lot of good hitters over there, and I tried to put the ball wherever I wanted, but I missed a couple of times."
Rodriguez (3-3) had retired 12 consecutive batters before Ramirez led off the ninth with his sixth homer of the season. Rodriguez is the first Astros pitcher to work into the ninth inning this year, but he was pulled after a double by Logan Morrison without recording an out in the inning.
"Any time guys start hitting Wandy, you're going to be a little bit surprised -- home runs or whatever," Mills said. "He's been throwing the ball so well, to give those up, yeah, that's surprising, to give up three in one game like that."
The only hits the Astros managed were singles by Travis Buck in the third, Altuve in the fourth and pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic in the ninth.
"He was sinking it, cutting it, throwing that splitter. He had everything working, it felt like," said Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez, who went 0-for-3 and is hitless in his last 17 at-bats. "Right when you had him in a good-hitting count, he made a good pitch and he would get out of it. He didn't miss many spots, he didn't make a lot of mistakes and he was just making pitches in counts: 3-2, 3-1, 2-0, didn't matter. If he fell behind, he would make a pitch and be right back in it."
The Astros' feel-good five-game winning streak has been followed by a pair of losses, thanks to dominating performances from pitchers who have had the Astros' number -- the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright on Sunday and now Zambrano. It doesn't figure to get any easier for Houston, either, with Anibal Sanchez and Josh Johnson throwing in the final two games of the series, though Johnson has been struggling.
"I didn't face Wainwright, but I know he had his stuff working, too, and sometimes you're going to run into guys like that," Martinez said. "There's nothing you can do. You've just got to fight and grind it out. That's why those guys are considered some of the best pitchers in the game, and that's why they make all that money."