06/22/07 10:39 PM ET
Notes: Wheeler closing with Lidge on DL
Pence gets the start in his hometown of Arlington
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
Wheeler was put back in the closer's role only because Brad Lidge went on the disabled list, a scenario Wheeler wishes hadn't happened.
"This is not the way you want to regain a spot, by any means,'" Wheeler said. "I feel awful for Brad. The way he's been throwing the ball, it's terrible timing for him. As soon as he gets the closer job back, and he's worked so hard to do that, he comes down with this. It's tough luck for him. I don't want to see that at all. For us to be successful, we need him."
It's doubtful Lidge will return before the All-Star break, which means Wheeler will probably have at least a month to settle back into the closer's role. In his first stint as closer, Wheeler had 11 saves in 13 opportunities.
As he prepares for his second go-around, Wheeler acknowledged having been through the experience will help this time.
"I think it helped a little bit," Wheeler said. "The first time you always wonder, 'Hey can you go out there and do it in that situation?' I have confidence that I can. I'll try not to treat it any differently than I did last time. And I felt like I did a pretty good job the last time."
Homecoming: Chances are, the first thing Hunter Pence did when he was called up in late April was check the schedule to see when the Astros were playing the Rangers.
And who could blame him? The center fielder grew up in Arlington and still lives there year-round. He reveled in the opportunity to spend the off-day at his own house on Thursday, and he was also excited to play in front of countless family and friends who flocked to the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to watch the second installment of the Lone Star Series.
A group of 32 from Cover All Bases, the batting facility where Pence works out during the offseason, were planning to attend, as well as high school and college friends.
Most were on their own for tickets, however.
"I tried to tell as many people, 'I can't really get tickets, so try to get your own,'" Pence said. "Some of my family and close friends, I got them tickets. It's been pretty crazy.'"
Lidge rehabbing: Lidge began his strengthening exercises on Friday a day earlier than he had originally planned.
Lidge, who went on the DL on Wednesday with a strained oblique muscle, played catch lightly and also did some trunk rotation exercises with resistance.
"We have to be careful," he said. "This is where it can bite me. If I feel too good, too fast, I can hurt it again."
Voting: In the hours leading up to batting practice Friday, Astros players spent much of their time reviewing their All-Star ballots and deciding who was most worthy of playing in the Midsummer Classic next month in San Francisco.
Fans pick the starting lineups, but players and managers choose the bulk of the teams, a system that was set in place four years ago when a new rule dictated home field advantage in the World Series would be determined by the outcome of the All-Star Game.
Players appear to be taking the voting very seriously, but not so much because of the World Series element. They just want to make sure the most deserving candidates are selected.
"We all respect how hard the game is, so the guys having the best years, I think everybody feels obligated to vote for him," Chris Burke said. "I don't think you'll see a lot of favoritism or hometown stuff going on. Most guys want to genuinely vote the best guys in."
"A lot of times people get in there on reputation and maybe aren't necessarily having the best year," said Lidge, a 2005 All-Star. "We want to make sure there's justice served and deseving guys get to go."
Lidge used Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday as an example. Holliday entered Friday's play with a league-leading .366 batting average, but he's not getting a lot of attention from the voting public.
"He's got to go to the All-Star Game, and he's got to be starting," Lidge said. "He's a guy that we have to make sure goes to the All-Star Game."
Better outing: Pitching coach Dave Wallace made the 3-1/2 hour drive from Arlington to Round Rock on Thursday to watch veteran right-hander Chan Ho Park face Memphis, in what was Park's second start since he signed a Minor League contract with Houston.
Park was better this time, allowing three runs over six innings, walking two and striking out four. In his first outing, he yielded five runs over three innings.
Wallace, who was Park's pitching coach when the two were with the Dodgers, was there to observe Park's outing but to also lend some moral support to his former protege.
"I just said, 'Don't worry about anything else besides continuing to pitch and get yourself back on track,'" Wallace said. "'Don't worry about how many starts you'll have. Just go pitch.' He was OK."
Coming up: The Astros and Rangers will meet on Saturday at a special FOX start time of 2:55 p.m. CT. Roy Oswalt (7-4, 3.51) will take the hill for the Astros, who will face Rangers right-hander Jamey Wright (0-1, 10.57).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.