Erstad sees more action against Cubs
Chicago (57-39) at Houston (45-51), 6:05 p.m. CT
HOUSTON -- Among the lineup changes made in the Astros' first game back from the All-Star break is one that is not necessarily new, but does arouse questioning.Darin Erstad is batting second and playing center field in place of Michael Bourn, who has been a regular near Tal's Hill despite his spotty performance at the plate. Manager Cecil Cooper has started Erstad more frequently of late, but he said before Friday's game against the Cubs that the one-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner will see much more starting time in the second half. "Darin's performing well," Cooper said. "He's a veteran, he knows how to get it done, and we really need him to step up and play well. He was a regular at one point. I think he can handle it." The Astros have been patient with Bourn all season, and while his batting average jumped in late May and again in late June to .274, and he was hitting just .103 prior to the break. Bourn said he understands why the switch was made, but he has questions about how he is supposed to improve in the meantime.
"My learning process is by playing; that's the only way I can learn," Bourn said. "I don't know another way to learn. That's like somebody telling you to learn how to write a paper and they say, 'Watch me write this paper.' The only way you can really learn how to write the paper is to write it yourself."Bourn, who discussed the situation with Cooper before the break, said he will live with the decision and do the best he can. He said he has not and will not question the move. "At my stage, it's irrelevant," Bourn said. "I don't express anything like that because I don't want to get in an argument with the manager or something like that. My opinion doesn't really matter if the manager and the owner and the general manager have something to say. Sometimes you just have to be quiet and bite the bullet." Cooper said Erstad has earned the starting opportunity, stepping in as a pinch-hitter and in the outfield whenever he has been asked. "He brings a lot of intensity and he's focused every day," Cooper said. "Here's a guy that, when he's not playing, you think he is playing because he's all fired up, he's got the eye black on. He's ready to go when he's not even playing. Erstad, who is batting .288 with 12 doubles and 15 RBIs this season, said he did not discuss the new role with Cooper, but is willing to do whatever is asked of him as the Astros take on the Cubs in Game 2 on Saturday. "Whatever they decide they want to use me as, I'll be there to do it," Erstad said. "At the end of the day, I just look in the mirror and sleep at night because I know I've given it everything I have. I can't do anything else." Pitching matchup
HOU: LHP Wandy Rodriguez (4-3, 3.48 ERA)
Rodriguez has a 3-4 record and a 4.50 ERA over eight career games vs. the Cubs. He allowed eight hits over 5 1/3 innings against the Nationals on July 12, getting a win despite allowing four earned runs. CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (10-3, 2.84 ERA)
The All-Star right-hander will try to pick up where he left off in the second half. Zambrano held the Reds to one hit over eight innings in his last start prior to the break. Big Z was limited to 100-105 pitches in that game because it was his second start after being on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder. In his two starts since coming off the DL, he's given up one run on five hits over 14 innings. This was the second straight first half in which Zambrano won 10 games. Let's see if he can match that in the second half. Tidbits
Cooper also made a move at the leadoff position on Friday. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui will be batting first for the Astros in the coming days. "We thought about doing that before the break," Cooper said, "but we thought we'd wait until after the break and give him a few more days with his leg and his hamstring to get better. Hopefully he's beyond that." Tickets
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Sunday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 6-9, 4.76) vs. Cubs (Ryan Dempster, 10-4, 3.25), 1:05 p.m. CT
Monday: Astros (Runelvys Hernandez, 0-3, 10.29) vs. Pirates (John Van Benschoten, 1-2, 9.77), 7:05 p.m. CT
Tuesday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 7-8, 4.56) vs. Pirates (Paul Maholm, 6-6, 4.10), 7:05 p.m. CT
Krysten Oliphant is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.