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Notes: Bruntlett returns more confident

Notes: Bruntlett returns more confident

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HOUSTON -- Eric Bruntlett, always quiet and unassuming, went about his business at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday in the same professional manner he has throughout his young career with the Astros.

But it had been a while since Bruntlett had been in these surroundings, considering he was sent to Triple-A Round Rock on Aug. 2 and didn't return until Monday, when the Astros recalled the utility infielder, as well as catcher Humberto Quintero.

"I'm very happy to be back," Bruntlett said. "You don't play to play Triple-A ball. You play to play in the big leagues."

There was one slight upside to going to Round Rock: playing time. Bruntlett, a bench player who was used mainly as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, had received only 14 at-bats in July, leading up to his demotion.

During his time with the Express, the added playing time brought forth an extra dose of confidence, which Bruntlett hopes will translate into success this time around with the Astros.

"Getting some at-bats and playing a little bit, I'm feeling better about my game right now, a little sharper than I was before," Bruntlett said. "I would say I'm more confident now. Just getting playing time. Being out on the field, getting at-bats."

Bruntlett's absence hurt the Astros, because it left them with only one bench player -- Chris Burke -- who could play second base and shortstop.

"This keeps me from having to hold Burke back until later in the ballgame, or taking a chance that I might have needed Burke to play every ballgame," manager Phil Garner said. "There's been a few times that I haven't made a move because [Brad] Ausmus might have been the guy who had to play the infield. Having Bruntlett back gives me a lot of flexibility to be able to use Burkie earlier in the game or use Bruntlett earlier in the game."

Hitting third: Craig Biggio jumped up a few spots in the lineup, hitting third on Tuesday after spending the latter part of the last road trip hitting sixth.

After watching several other hitters have success batting in front of Lance Berkman, Garner figured that may be exactly what Biggio needs to kick-start his bat. Biggio entered the game with a .171 average this month, logging 13 hits in 76 at-bats.

"I'm trying a different spot, seeing if something happens," Garner said. "Hitting ahead of Berkman might do something for him."

Biggio homered in the sixth inning of Tuesday's game, knocking a two-run shot to give the Astros a 3-0 lead.

Anniversary of hope: The Astros honored those affected by Hurricane Katrina one year ago during a pregame ceremony on Tuesday that consisted of a video highlighting Major League Baseball's response to the disaster. The ceremony also honored two families whose lives were affected by Habitat for Humanity following Hurricane Katrina.

During the 2005 World Series, Astros players and front-office staff helped build frames for eight houses that are now in the process of becoming homes for families impacted by the disaster.

Last year, Houston Habitat for Humanity announced its landmark hurricane-relief initiative, "Operation Love Thy Neighbor." The special project aimed to build 50 additional homes for low-income families displaced by the 2005 Gulf Coast storms.

A year after Katrina, more than 100 new homes have been sponsored for families rebuilding their lives in Houston -- with 70 of the families having already received the keys to their new homes.

Two families whose lives were impacted by the work of Habitat for Humanity were recognized on the field at Minute Maid Park -- Danny Cook and his son, Kendall, from New Orleans, have relocated to Houston and recently closed on a Habitat home.

Niea Limar and her son, Alan, also relocated to Houston from New Orleans, and Niea is working at Houston Habitat.

On the mend: Fernando Nieve, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 22, played catch on Tuesday and said his sore right elbow is improving.

"The ligaments are swollen," he said. "All I need is rest. When I'm resting, it doesn't hurt, so yes, it's gotten better."

Also improving: Chad Qualls threw a short side session during batting practice on Tuesday and declared himself available for Tuesday's game.

Qualls bruised his right heel in the first game in Pittsburgh on Thursday and did not pitch in the remaining three games of the series at PNC Park.

"When I first woke up today, it still hurt," Qualls said Tuesday. "But I'm available today. It's not 100 percent, but it's more around 90, 95. I'm ready to go."

Rousing success: The 16th annual "Black Ties and Baseball Caps" wives gala, which took place Monday night at Minute Maid Park, raised $525,000 for the Houston Area Women's Center.

Among the most sought-after items in the live and silent auctions were two National League Championship rings, which reportedly went for $18,000 each.

Also up for grabs were two dinners with Phil Garner, which sold for five grand each. But dinner with Ausmus? That went for a cool $9,500. Garner feigned jealousy on that one.

"I'm benching [him]," Garner said.

Coming up: The Astros will host the Brewers for the second game of the three-game set on Wednesday, beginning at 7:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Roger Clemens (6-4, 2.50) will face Brewers right-hander Dave Bush (9-10, 4.89).

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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