06/28/10 12:53 AM ET
Interleague Play for Astros ends
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
Entering Sunday, the Astros were 3-11 in Interleague Play this year, going 1-2 against Tampa Bay, 0-3 at the Yankees, 1-2 against Kansas City and 1-4 against the Rangers, who swept the Astros at Minute Maid Park last week. Houston opens a three-game series Monday at Milwaukee.
"There's no doubt it's been quite a schedule for us in Interleague," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "It's a situation where we're glad it's over with and we can get back to National League baseball."
The Astros were 10-3 against NL teams in June and 2-9 against American League teams prior to Sunday.
"You talk about momentum and it's tough to put your finger on what gets you going and what stops you," Mills said. "Playing the American League clubs in their ballpark where they have the designated hitter, that can be tough."
Bird in the hand worth two in the box
ARLINGTON -- Astros catcher Humberto Quintero had seen enough fowl play.
"It was taking too long," he said.
Quintero was on deck in the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Rangers when a curious bird landed near home plate for the second time in a matter of minutes. Astros batter Chris Johnson tried to shoo it away with his bat and plate umpire Mike Reilly couldn't get it to budge, either.
That's when Quintero took over, approaching the bird and gently picking it up with both hands. He placed it in a camera well at the end of the first-base dugout, drawing cheers from the crowd.
"We have birds in Venezuela," said Quintero, who likes to hunt and was wearing batting gloves. "Why were people scared? We have a lot of birds in Venezuela. I got it and put it away. I didn't want to wait 30 minutes for the bird to go away."
Johnson was impressed with Quintero's bird-handling ability.
"It looked like he's done that before," Johnson said. "That's not something you see every day, so I was just trying to do my best and clear it and get it away. I didn't want the bird to throw my at-bat away, but it was a little awkward."
The bird swooped over the field one last time and watched the final out of the game while perched on the railing on the center-field wall. No harm, no fowl.
Pence, Keppinger out of starting lineup
ARLINGTON -- Right fielder Hunter Pence and second baseman Jeff Keppinger were due a day off, and manager Brad Mills opted to keep them out of the lineup in Sunday's series finale against the Texas Rangers. Jason Michaels started in right and Geoff Blum at second.
Pence, who was 1-for-8 in the first two games of the series in his hometown of Arlington, hadn't had a day off since June 4, but Keppinger had started 36 consecutive games. He hadn't had a day off since May 18, when Kaz Matsui filled in for him.
"It has been a long stretch for both of them," Mills said. "This is nothing against either of them, but the combination of them being out there for so long and the heat as well, that's tough. Hunter was all over the field [Saturday] defensively and offensively, and it took its toll."
The Astros and Rangers played in 95-degree heat on Saturday afternoon, and the first pitch Sunday was 96 degrees.
Keppinger entered Sunday in an 0-for-10 slump and was hitting .245 in June. Michaels is 9-for-22 with eight RBIs in his past nine games.
Struggling Bourn back in lineup
ARLINGTON -- Michael Bourn was back in the starting lineup in center field on Sunday after not starting in three of the team's previous six games.
Bourn has been scuffling a bit in June, entering Sunday hitting .224 (19-for-85) in the month. He hit .311 in April and .245 in May.
"I feel OK," Bourn said. "You're going to go through your ups and downs. Last year, I had a good year all through the whole year. If you look at it, I didn't go through a slump almost the entire year. I was even surprised because I never had a year where I didn't go through a slump. But I'm going to continue to work to come out of it, and I feel like I am."
Bourn hit .261 in April last year, but he never hit lower than .274 or higher than .309 during the middle fourth months of the season. He finished at .285, a career-best batting average, and continues to challenge himself to improve as a leadoff hitter, studying the likes of Rafael Furcal and Jimmy Rollins.
"Other than Ichiro [Suzuki], you don't find any of them that stay real consistent," he said. "I would love to be able to do that and will work hard as I can to try to get better."
Banks designated for assignment
ARLINGTON -- Prior to Sunday's game against the Rangers, the Astros designated right-hander Josh Banks for assignment, removing him from the 40-man roster.
Banks' time with the Astros was brief, being called up to start Saturday's game in place of injured started Felipe Paulino.
The Astros have 10 days to trade him, release him or outright him to the Minor Leagues.
The move likely means veteran Brian Moehler will keep his spot in the rotation for the time being. Moehler threw five innings and allowed two earned runs Saturday for his first win this season. He's 1-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 18 games, including six starts.
Bud Norris, on the disabled list since May 24 with bursitis and biceps tendinitis, will rejoin the rotation on Monday in Milwaukee. He's 2-5 with a 6.80 ERA in nine starts with the Astros and posted a 3.06 ERA in three rehab starts at Triple-A Round Rock.
Banks gave up eight hits, four walks and six earned runs in four innings Saturday. He was 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA in 15 starts this year at Round Rock.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.