HOUSTON -- The injury to Astros catcher J.R. Towles, who took a foul ball off the facemask in the third inning on Friday that forced him to get 11 stitches, worked to the benefit of Brian Esposito, who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City as an insurance policy on Saturday.
Esposito, who is 0-for-3 in his Major League career, was hitting .217 combined between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Corpus Christi. His experience with the Astros last year and his familiarity with the pitchers made him the most logical choice to help the Astros' catching depth while Towles gets a few days off to heal.
"It's been a crazy year, going up and down to different places," Esposito said. "I just tried to stay positive with everything I did. I spent some time on the inactive list and some time at Double-A and Triple-A, and I didn't let it bother me, really. I just tried to get my work in and did the best I could when I did get in there."
Towles, who had started his first game on Friday in more than week because of general leg soreness from the wear and tear of catching, is available to pinch-hit, but it will be a while before he can don a catcher's mask and get back behind the plate. Carlos Corporan will get the majority of playing time until Towles is ready.
Downs starts at short against Rays
HOUSTON -- One day after saying he'd like to get Matt Downs more playing time, Astros manager Brad Mills had the versatile infielder in the starting lineup on Saturday at shortstop. Downs' only other career start at the position came on Sept. 6 against the Cubs in Chicago.
Downs entered Saturday's game hitting .282, with five homers and 19 homers in 78 at-bats. He hit a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning on Wednesday to lift the Astros to a dramatic win over the Rangers, giving him two career pinch-hit homers (both this season).
"Obviously, I want to get as many at-bats as I can get," Downs said. "You still have to put up your numbers to produce, but I'm here to do whatever they want me to do."
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
Downs has started seven games at third base, four at second base and one at first base this year, but he saw some time at shortstop in the spring and has been taking ground balls there during batting practice.
"Like I said [on Friday], when a guy's swinging the bat well, you want to try to find a position to help him," Mills said. "We thought today would be the day to do that."
Bourgeois bothered by injuries
HOUSTON -- Jason Bourgeois spent nearly a month on the disabled list with a strained left oblique earlier this season and was later slowed by a sore ankle that required an MRI. Astros manager Brad Mills said on Saturday he's worried about Bourgeois, who has been bothered by a cramp in his right quadriceps muscle.
When asked if Bourgeois was completely healthy, Mills said no.
"He's not, and I'm a little nervous about that," Mills said. "Watching him run and move, it didn't look like he was at [full] speed. We need to get him back to full speed."
Mills said Bourgeois is available to play, but his legs aren't at 100 percent. Speed has been a huge part of Bourgeois' game. Bourgeois began play on Saturday hitting .354 with just 17 stolen bases in 41 games.
"He's probably just a little bit better right now [than he was earlier this week in Arlington]," Mills said, "but not to what we're used to seeing from Bourgeois, as far as having the energy level and speed and quickness."
Mills shorthanded in bullpen for a while
HOUSTON -- With the Astros currently carrying three catchers, manager Brad Mills is going to have to use a six-man bullpen the next few days. Mills said having a scheduled off-day on Monday should make that task somewhat easier.
"That's going to help the bullpen and give it plenty of rest," Mills said.
The Astros were forced to carry an extra catcher when J.R. Towles suffered a gash on his chin on Friday. The Astros sent down right-hander Fernando Rodriguez following Friday's game and called up catcher Brian Esposito.
The decision to send down Rodriguez was a difficult one, considering he had a 2.87 ERA in 13 appearances and threw two scoreless innings on Friday.
"That was not easy at all," Mills said. "The thing was, we were in a bind, and he understood that. He understood the whole situation, and hopefully, it can be resolved pretty shortly, with Towles getting healthy and being able to get back behind the plate in a few days."
All three of the pitchers used by the Astros on Friday had the last name of Rodriguez -- starter Wandy and relievers Fernando and Aneury. According to ESPN, it was the first time since 1900 that three players with the same surname appeared in a game for the same team. And it wasn't by design. "I got a text today from someone saying, 'Are you trying to confuse them by throwing all Rodriguezes at them?'" manager Brad Mills said.
The Astros signed two more Draft picks on Saturday: catcher Kevin Gonzalez (36th round) and right-hander Steven Martin (37th round), both from Texas A&M. Houston has signed 31 of its 50 draft picks.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.