HOUSTON -- Astros right fielder Hunter Pence began Sunday needing two stolen bases to become the ninth player in franchise history to reach 20 stolen bases and 20 homers in the season -- and the first since Carlos Beltran did it in 2004.
Pence, who had never stolen more than 17 bases in a professional season prior to this year, asked manager Brad Mills early in the season for a green light to run and try to take the extra base when the situation is right -- and he feels he can steal off the pitcher.
"I have to be smart," Pence said. "I'm right on the cusp of being just fast enough. I know the times the pitcher has to be [to the plate] for me to get a bag, and they understand if they pick and get the ball home quick enough, I'm not going to be able to steal on you. That's the bottom line."
Pence studies the moves of the pitcher during each pitch and confers with first-base coach Bobby Meacham about the viability of trying to steal a base. The pitcher must take 1.35 seconds or less from the start of his windup to the ball arriving at the plate for Pence to feel he has a chance.
"Most of the time I have a green light," Pence said. "There are times they don't want me to do it, but when I have the green light I'm trying to steal every pitch -- if the pitcher is long enough and it's the right situation."
Mills is all for Pence trying to run, because he doesn't want to limit his aggressiveness.
"That's one of the biggest parts of his game, both at the plate and on the field," Mills said.
Paulino activated from disabled list
HOUSTON -- Felipe Paulino was activated from the 60-day disabled list prior to Sunday's game, making the big right-hander eligible to pitch for the first time since he went on the shelf on June 21 with right shoulder tendinitis.
"Finally," Paulino said. "Back to the hill today. It's a good feeling. I just try to be available any time when they need me in the game."
Paulino, who went 1-8 with a 4.40 ERA in 14 starts this year, will be used cautiously in a relief role the rest of the season.
"We're going to have to almost designate an inning for him and make sure he's got plenty of time to get loose -- and depending on how he gets through that inning, whether he's going to be able to get back out," Houston manager Brad Mills said.
The goal for the Paulino the rest of the way will be to prove he's healthy again, giving him and the Astros some piece of mind heading into the offseason. Paulino will likely have to battle for a spot in the rotation next spring.
"Everybody wants to be healthy," he said. "My focus right now, like I said, is getting back on the hill and try to be healthy the last three weeks -- and to help at any point when they need me during the game."
Johnson kept out as precaution
HOUSTON -- Still nursing some tightness in the left part of his lower back, rookie third baseman Chris Johnson was out of the starting lineup on Sunday against the Dodgers for the second consecutive day.
Johnson, who was available to pinch-hit, said he likely would have started on Sunday if it would have been a night game, but manager Brad Mills wanted to give him more time. Johnson began the day hitting .319 with eight homers and 42 RBIs.
"It's just a little soreness, but nothing serious," said Johnson, who took batting practice before the game.
Entering Sunday, Johnson ranked sixth in the National League in batting average (.333) since the All-Star break and ranked second among all NL rookies in batting average this season. He also ranked fourth in slugging percentage. The Astros are 40-30 in games in which he started at third base.
"I'm just going to keep going out there every day, try to help the team win and get better, and boost the stats a little bit," Johnson said.
Sore toe sidelines Keppinger
HOUSTON -- Second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who missed 15 games in August with an injury to his left big toe (sesamoiditis), was held out of the lineup on Sunday because the injury flared up. He was available to play if needed.
"It's doing OK," Keppinger said. "I still feel it. I've felt it since the first game [he returned Sept. 1] and I've been good. Sometimes it might act up if I push on it a little more. It's pretty standard."
Keppinger had to put ice on the toe on Sunday and has been wearing an insole in his cleat to provide more comfort, support and keep the toe from moving around. The doctors have told Keppinger he'll have to rest the toe for six weeks in the offseason for it to heal properly.
"He hasn't had a day off yet since he came back, and he has been getting on [base] the last couple of days," manager Brad Mills said. "Again, with a day game after a night game, this is going to give him a little more time to rest up for [Monday]."
Astros honor Pearland LLWS team
HOUSTON -- The Astros honored the Little League team from Pearland, Texas, that finished fourth in this year's Little League World Series during pregame ceremonies at Minute Maid Park on Sunday afternoon.
The entire squad and coaching staff was introduced to applause on the field in recognition of their outstanding run. Pearland won the Little League Southwest Regional Championship, and then advanced all the way to the United States championship game before being eliminated by Hawaii.
Prior to the ceremony, the Pearland squad visited the Astros clubhouse, where they met and took pictures with several players -- including Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson, Jeff Keppinger and Tommy Manzella, as well as former Astros Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Jose Cruz. Manager Brad Mills visited with the Pearland players and coaches as well.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.