HOUSTON -- Astros third baseman Chris Johnson, who's struggled this year after hitting .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs in 94 games as a rookie, got some sage advice Tuesday from former teammate Lance Berkman, now with the Cardinals.
"He came up to me and the first thing he said is 'You're not a big leaguer until you've had a bad April,' which kind of made me feel good," Johnson said. "Lance is a great guy and a friend of mine and a guy I look up to."
Johnson has noticed opposing pitchers have been approaching him differently this season. He said he's been seeing fewer fastballs and has been fed a steady diet of breaking balls, which is something he's trying to adjust to.
"Last year they found out I could hit the fastball out over the plate, and right now I think they're trying to tie me up a little bit inside with the fastball and a lot of offspeed stuff," Johnson said. "I've been seeing a lot more offspeed stuff than I've seen in my entire career just this last month. I think that's the approach I'm going with right now, and I'm working on figuring out how to be a little more patient and wait and try to get a good pitch."
Johnson stroked a single on a curveball in the fifth inning of Tuesdsay's 6-5 win over the Cardinals and then hit a bases-loaded fastball into left field in the sixth inning to drive in a pair of runs. He also struck out twice, giving him 22 whiffs in 76 at-bats.
"I really want to get the big hit for the team and want to get this thing going," he said. "I'm trying to get going and be patient at the same time. It's really awkward for me because it's the first time in my career I've had to deal with it."
Lee working overtime to get out of slump
HOUSTON -- After going 0-for-4 and popping out with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth inning of Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Cardinals, Astros left fielder Carlos Lee sought out hitting coach Mike Barnett and told him he needed some extra work.
Lee joined Michael Bourn and took early hitting prior to Wednesday's game in an effort to break out of his season-long slump.
"It's something I wanted to do," Lee said. "I'm not feeling too good at the plate right now. I'm not seeing the ball very good now, so I'm coming out and trying to get back to the basics and working on staying through the ball and seeing the ball longer."
Lee entered Wednesday in an 0-for-11 slump that has dropped his batting average to .207. Unlike last year, when he got off to a poor start at the plate and became frustrated because he said he was putting good swings on the ball, things are different this year.
"Last year, it was straight-up bad luck," Lee said. "I was hitting the ball hard with nothing to show for it, and right now I'm not even making good contact."
Astros opt for Towles to catch Happ
HOUSTON -- The Astros had J.R. Towles behind the plate to catch starter J.A. Happ on Wednesday instead of Humberto Quintero, who had caught Happ's first four starts. It was the ninth start of the season for Towles, with Quintero catching 15 games.
Towles, who entered Wednesday hitting .385, was scratched from the lineup April 16 because of a left ankle sprain. Manager Brad Mills said the injury alternated his catching rotation somewhat.
"We're still trying to decide when we want to use those guys, when we don't and when they need off-days and so forth," Mills said. "A lot of this had to do with J.R.'s ankle, getting him two days off and then [Tuesday] giving that ankle a chance to heal."
Quintero figures to catch the next two games with Nelson Figueroa and Brett Myers on the mound. Towles has been catching Wandy Rodriguez exclusively this season.
"We don't want to stretch out Q, plus we want to see J.R. stay fresh with the bat and also working with different pitchers behind the plate," Mills said.
Bogusevic reflects on Triple-A after nice debut
HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder Brian Bogusevic made a grand season debut with the Major League club Tuesday, getting a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning and scoring the game-tying run in a 6-5 win over the Cardinals. Bogusevic joined the team from Round Rock, Texas, where Triple-A Oklahoma City was in the midst of a four-game series.
Round Rock, of course, was the Astros' Triple-A affiliate for several seasons. The Round Rock franchise is owned by Ryan-Sanders Baseball and last year became an affiliate of the Texas Rangers, who are owned by Nolan Ryan.
Bogusevic spent the entire 2009 season and almost all of 2010 in Round Rock, so going back to Dell Diamond as a visiting player was unusual.
"Somebody said half the guys who were on the roster for Oklahoma City were in Round Rock last year," he said. "Everybody's real familiar with it, but to be on the other side and see the clubbies and the Ryans come through, it's weird when you're not on the team."
Other than Oklahoma City being farther from Houston than Round Rock, Bogusevic says it's a good atmosphere.
"Round Rock is out in the suburbs, so once you leave the field there's not a whole lot to do," Bogusevic said. "In Oklahoma City, the park is right in Bricktown and the apartments where we lived are a couple of blocks away, so there's a lot going on. It's a nice stadium and the locker rooms are really big."
Shortstop Clint Barmes played nine innings for Double-A Corpus Christi in his third rehab start Wednesday night, going 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored while playing shortstop in an 8-2 win at Midland. Barmes, who broke his hand March 25 when he was hit by a pitch in a Spring Training game, will likely be activated as soon as Friday.
Right-hander Fernando Nieve, who signed a Minor League deal with the Astros earlier this month and played briefly at Triple-A Oklahoma City, was given his release Wednesday to sign with the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball League.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.