One element of the lineup that hasn't changed in the past few days is the absence of Adam Everett. The shortstop has been slightly hampered by a lingering lower back issue, but his .209 batting average also has contributed to his time off.
Everett hit .173 (17-for-98) in May, which would have been slightly tolerable had the rest of the lineup been productive. The collective nosedive of several middle-of-the-order hitters, however, forced Garner to play Eric Bruntlett, less defensively sound than Everett but with a better bat.
Sunday marked Bruntlett's fourth straight start at shortstop. Garner plans to play him there Monday, too, and then make a further determination on Everett's status.
"I have not made a decision that it was anything permanent or semi-permanent or what have you," Garner said. "If Bruntlett did get 10 hits, I would probably continue to play him on a day-by-day basis.
"But just because a guy goes into a slump, it doesn't mean he has to lose his job right away. We do need to win some ballgames, and if that coincides with us slumping as a team, then I'm going to try to find a combination to get something going."
Smart hitting: Garner would like to see more clutch hitting, something the Astros have sorely lacked during their recent swoon. Garner doesn't look at overall batting average as much as what players are hitting with runners on base.
"So you don't drive in a run with the score 6-2, you leave the bases full, you make outs," Garner said. "All right, live with that. But when the score's 4-5 and you leave the bases drunk, or you leave two guys out there, that starts to be painful. We're all doing it. It's not just any one guy."
Gunned down: Left-hander Andy Pettitte got a little greedy in the second inning Saturday night.
Pettitte lined a hit over Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., which skipped all the way to Tal's Hill. Pettitte, whose arms were flapping all the way around the bases, had an easy double. But he attempted to stretch his hit into a three-bagger.
Not a good idea. Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion eventually handled Griffey's throw, and Pettitte was out easily with a tag.
"It was stupid," Pettitte said. "I lost my mind running around the bases. I guess I wasn't able to enjoy it after the way I was pitching."
Pettitte still picked up his fourth career double and his second this season. The sprint around the bases winded him for the next inning, when he allowed an RBI single to Bronson Arroyo.
Yet, the run, Pettitte said, didn't affect him past the third.
Ten minutes before game time on a day he wasn't supposed to pitch, Fernando Nieve probably thought it was safe to take a bathroom break.
Not so. Pitching coach Jim Hickey sought him out on Sunday at around 12:55 p.m. CT and asked, "Can you start today?"
Soon, Nieve was heading to the bullpen to warm up for his ninth start of the year, following the announcement that Roy Oswalt was scratched due to back spasms.
Pitching on short notice didn't appear to faze Nieve. He threw five solid innings, allowing two solo homers.
"I didn't have a problem throwing in the game," Nieve said. "I was ready."
Signed: On Sunday, the Astros signed three players from last year's First-Year Player Draft -- one fifth-year senior and two draft-and-follows. The signees include left-hander William R. Owens, a fifth-year senior from The Citadel, right fielder Andrew T. Darnell, a draft-and-follow from Chabot College (35th round), and right-hander Reid T. Kelly, a draft-and-follow from Chandler Gilbert Community College (33rd round).
Coming up: The Astros begin a three-game set with the Cubs at Minute Maid Park on Monday at 7:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Taylor Buchholz (3-4, 5.55 ERA) will face Chicago right-hander Carlos Zambrano (3-3, 3.42 ERA).