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Astros purchase Pence's contract

Astros purchase Pence's contract

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HOUSTON -- It took only 22 games -- and one very deflating seven-game losing streak -- for the Houston Astros to begin shaking up the team with hopes that a change of inventory may provide a boost in the win-loss column.

Following a 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, general manager Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner announced that they made two roster moves and one internal adjustment. They purchased the contract of outfielder Hunter Pence from Triple-A Round Rock, designated left-hander Stephen Randolph for assignment and informed Chris Burke that he was no longer the starting center fielder and instead would be used in a utility role.

Pence will not just be in uniform for Saturday's game. He's going to start in center, indefinitely. Where he hits in the lineup remains to be seen.

Purpura and Garner are hoping Pence's presence will spark a lineup that has provided plenty of hits but very few runs. Undoubtedly, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore Pence's .341 average over 22 games for Round Rock.

"We've got to find a way to get the offense rolling," Purpura said. "We're getting the hits but not driving in the runs. Hunter's a kid who we really hope can help us with that. It's certainly asking a lot. But all the returns from Round Rock have been very postitive. We feel very good about this player. We feel like he can come up here and give us some energy."

Burke, considered a second-baseman-in-waiting behind Craig Biggio, hit .219 with eight doubles and three RBIs over 21 games. He handled the news with typical professionalism, blaming no one but himself for management's decision.

"I'm really just more disappointed with myself," Burke said. "I had a chance to play, I didn't do well; we're not scoring runs; we're not winning, so they did what they felt like they had to do."

Asked if 22 games was enough of a sampling, Burke took the high road.

"At the end of the day, I stunk," he said. "We're not doing good and they did what they had to do. At the end of the day, I've got only myself to blame."

Lance Berkman doesn't see it that way. He thinks benching Burke is a "horrible move."

"I think Hunter Pence deserves to play in the big leagues," Berkman said. "He's got a bright future. I think he's very talented, and I don't object to them calling him up to try to spark us. But I think it's unfair to Chris. I think it sends the wrong message to the team that there's something drastic that needs to be fixed. I don't like it. If you're going to put Chris Burke on the bench, I think it's a horrible move."

Berkman doesn't think a 22-game sampling is enough.

"You have to let a guy settle in a little bit," he said. "Look at me, I'm hitting .200. Does that mean I'm going to end up hitting .230? Absolutely not.

"As an organization, you have to identify your talent and say, 'We believe in this guy,' and then give him a chance to play. Seventy at-bats is not a chance. That's a very, very small sliver of the season.

"Nothing against Hunter. I think he deserves to be here. I think he's going to do great when he gets a chance. But then my question is, what if Hunter comes up and struggles after 60 or 70 at-bats? Then you've got two guys thinking, 'What's going on here -- do I belong in this organization?' and that sort of thing. I don't think that's the right move, putting Chris on the bench."

Other players had different views.

"The things is we don't need a bat," Brad Ausmus said. "We're just not hitting. But when you're not hitting, you try to find an answer. Hunter Pence is a very high-ceiling young player. He could maybe inject some energy into the lineup. We'll see."

Roy Oswalt, who had very little run support en route to his second loss of the season, called Pence "lively."

"He can bring life to the club," Oswalt said. "He gets excited when he gets on the field. Hopefully everybody feeds off that. Adding his bat into the lineup is going to add more power and another threat for a home-run ball."

Purpura, who watched Burke blossom as a Minor League prospect since the infielder was drafted in 2001, said he was disappointed to have to move the former No. 1 First-Year Player Draft pick to a utility role.

"As far as development, it'll take away from his playing time, certainly," Purpura said. "But as I said to Chris a minute ago, this isn't over. We want him on this club and we want him to be a part of it, and we feel he can be a very successful Major League player.

"It's unfortunate, but when a club struggles like we're struggling, it's the younger players, the less experienced players, who sometimes have to bear the brunt of it and lose playing time."

Pence's addition to the lineup and Burke's demotion may not be the only changes on the horizon. Garner did not reveal what he's planning, but he's not averse to more tinkering.

"We're gong to put [Pence] in center field and let him play and see what happens," Garner said. "But we've got a bunch of guys up and down the lineup -- we've had base hits and done some nice things. We just haven't put things together. We have to find something that's going to click."

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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