Notes: Taveras bides his time
Outfielder stays positive despite Burke's emergence in center
CHICAGO -- Chris Burke's performance of late has made it impossible for manager Phil Garner to not include him in the lineup, and Burke started again Wednesday for the eighth time in nine games.
But Burke's increased playing time has naturally created a somewhat delicate situation. The emergence of one player means a loss of playing time for another, and in this case, it's Willy Taveras who draws the short end of the stick.
Taveras has essentially lost his starting job in center field to Burke, and while Garner isn't tipping his hand regarding how long this arrangement will last, it's apparent Taveras hasn't received a guarantee that he'll be in the starting lineup anytime soon.
Garner has had one meeting with Taveras on this matter. The two met just after Burke dislocated his shoulder swinging at a pitch last Wednesday, and after Burke was set to return after missing just one game, Garner told Taveras he was sticking with Burke in center for the time being.
"We're just going to use it for a little bit, but it's not cut in stone," Garner said. "Let's not forget we went 19-9 [in April] with Willy in center field, too."
Garner also cleared the air about a misconception that Taveras has done something specific that caused him to fall out of favor with the manager.
"Willy's a good kid," Garner said. "He continues to work. Clearly, he wants to play. The only thing you can do when you're like this is do what Chris did -- make sure you are prepared. You get an opening, make the best of it.
"It's not that Willy is out of favor. It's just the combination is working this way at this moment. We've started to play a little better, and Chris has been a part of that. Willy was sliding a little bit. That's really all there is to it. There's nothing else to it than that."
Taveras said very little when asked about his take on the matter.
"I just have to come ready to play," he said. "We're trying to win games."
Baby steps: Morgan Ensberg took batting practice on Wednesday for the first time since he bruised his right shoulder on a diving play last week in Houston.
Ensberg hasn't played since last Friday but felt good enough on Wednesday to hit off a tee prior to taking batting practice. While he has not yet attempted to throw, he was encouraged that he was able to raise his arm above his head -- something he was unable to do initially after the injury occurred.
"My range of motion is a lot better, all the way around," he said.
Ensberg will be available to pinch-hit on Thursday, but is unlikely to start at third base.
More progress: Brandon Backe threw approximately 50 pitches in a simulated game on Monday, and he'll throw again Friday as he continues to work toward returning to the starting rotation.
Backe will likely make three Minor League rehab starts after his next simulated game, which puts him on schedule to rejoin the Astros just after the All-Star break.
Backe, who has been sidelined since mid-April with a sprained right elbow, is relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"Surgery was still on my mind up until a week ago, two weeks ago," he said. "I wasn't feeling too good. There was definitely progress, but it was going slow. I tried to be as optimstic as I could, but still in the back of my head, I was wondering if I was wasting my time and should just have surgery. Really, right now, I felt pretty normal."
Call to the Hall: The Cubs and Astros ushered in a new era of communication between the dugout and bullpens on Tuesday, replacing the old, traditional phones with Motorola wireless handsets.
Representatives from Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame were in attendance to witness the first wireless call to the bullpen, whether it came from Cubs skipper Dusty Baker or Houston's Phil Garner. Garner made sure the historic call came from him, ringing down to pitching coach Jim Hickey just after the first pitch of the game was tossed.
"We have to be the ones going to the Hall of Fame," Garner said.
And what were the first words spoken during this momentous occasion?
"One small step for technology," Hickey said. "One giant leap for Major League Baseball."
Rotation change: The Astros made a minor tweak to their weekend starting rotation, flip-flopping Taylor Buchholz and Wandy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez will open the series with the Royals on Friday, and Buchholz will pitch Saturday. The move was made in order to split up the two lefties -- Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte, who will start Sunday. When Roger Clemens rejoins the club on June 22, the order of the rotation will be Roy Oswalt, Rodriguez, Clemens and Pettitte.
Odds and ends: Brad Lidge, a Notre Dame alum, chatted it up with Fighting Irish football coach Charlie Weis, who was the featured celebrity singer at Wrigley Field on Tuesday during the seventh-inning stretch. Notre Dame baseball coach Paul Mainieri was also at Wrigley with Weis. "We had a chance to catch up on some Notre Dame talk," Lidge said. "We talked about the good times. [Weis] is a lot of fun to talk to. He has a pretty commanding presence about him. Asked if he gave any football advice to the coach, Lidge said, "I think I'll let him take care of the offense. What he needs to do is give Chris Burke a couple plays to take to Tennessee." ... Lidge and setup man Dan Wheeler both pitched in Tuesday's game, even though the Astros won by a landslide. Garner plans to keep the back end of the bullpen on a regular schedule, even when the games aren't close. "I like to make it only four days max [between appearances]," Garner said.
Coming up: After two consecutive night games, the Astros and Cubs will finally play a matinee at Wrigley Field for the series finale Thursday. The game begins at 1:20 p.m. CT and will feature right-handers Fernando Nieve (2-3, 4.85) and Carlos Zambrano (5-3, 2.93).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.