After saying for weeks that he's fine, Johan Santana finally pitched like it Tuesday night with a performance that should put to rest any lingering fears about collateral damage from his June 1 no-hitter.
Santana, who studied video from that historic outing to prepare for this one, held the Orioles scoreless for six innings and Lucas Duda hit a two-run homer that lifted the Mets to a 5-0 victory before a crowd of 32,587 at Citi Field.
"I think it was really big for Johan," manager Terry Collins said. "He had much better stuff today -- life to his fastball, his breaking ball had much better depth to it. His changeup has always been a good pitch, but he had much better command."
Following R.A. Dickey's one-hitter Monday, that's back-to-back shutouts for the Mets, who have not surrendered a run since a two-out, two-run single in the fifth inning on Sunday.
The Mets' scoreless streak stands at 22 innings, six shy of their longest this season, from May 25-28. The Mets' eight shutouts are tops in the NL and second only to the Angels (nine) in the majors.
In his two previous starts, Santana gave up 10 earned runs in 10 innings, raising concerns that he still was feeling the effects from his 134-pitch no-hitter. But Santana (5-3) retired eight of the first nine Orioles and deftly pitched out of trouble when necessary -- stranding four runners in scoring position -- to trim his ERA to 3.00.
"I had enough," Santana said. "Enough to win the ballgame and help out."
Santana walked two and struck out five, but with his pitch count at 101 -- and the bullpen rested -- Collins pulled him after six innings. Bobby Parnell, Miguel Batista and Jon Rauch finished the shutout. In eight home starts, Santana improved to 4-1 with a 1.16 ERA, and Tuesday night was his first start at Citi Field since the emotional night of June 1.
"I'm telling you, the no-hitter took it out of him," Collins said. "Then the next start he's got to face the Yankees, with all the hoopla. I'm not sure the adrenaline didn't wipe him out for a week. But I thought he was much sharper."
Santana, however, has been reluctant to blame the no-hitter. He credited improved command of his fastball Tuesday night for making his changeup more effective. In the fourth, with runners at second and third, he whiffed Mark Reynolds on a 3-and-2 changeup and then got Steve Pearce on a 3-and-2 slider to escape the threat.
"Every time you have a start like this, it's going to feel good," Santana said. "I think it could have been better. I wanted to go deeper in the game."
Jordany Valdespin, who had two hits Monday and scored two runs, earned his second start in as many nights -- this time in leftfield -- and delivered a two-run single in the seventh. In his last eight games, he is batting .333 (8-for-24) with seven runs, three doubles, a triple and eight RBIs. "I can run, I can hit, I can throw -- I can do everything," Valdespin said. "When I get the opportunity, I'm going to play hard and show everybody I can play here."
The Mets have some roster decisions coming up shortly, and they are likely to impact Valdespin. Ronny Cedeño, rehabbing at Triple-A Buffalo, is expected back for this weekend's Subway Series and the Mets hope to have Ruben Tejada not long after that. That will put the squeeze on Valdespin.
"It's tough to say," Collins said before the game. "Someone has to go -- you're only allowed 25 -- and I don't know who those guys are going to be yet."
After Daniel Murphy nudged the Mets in front, 1-0, with his RBI groundout in the fourth, Duda drilled a two-run homer that landed on the black netting above the new Mo's Zone in rightfield. It was Duda's 11th home run and first since June 7.
"I think that barely went out, so it was a relief when it went over," said Duda, who has reached base safely in 22 straight games dating to May 27. "By inches I think."