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Notes: Pence excited to be in bigs

Notes: Pence excited to be in bigs

HOUSTON -- Hunter Pence was at the top step of the dugout on Friday in Round Rock, prepared to go to the on-deck circle if his Express teammates were able to extend the ninth inning in a one-run game.

But as Josh Anderson grounded into a forceout, ending the game, Round Rock manager Jackie Moore turned to Pence and said, "Pence, congratulations buddy, you're going to the big leagues."

"He shook my hand and I just froze," Pence recalled. "Every memory of all the hard work and all the baseball I've played just went through my head, and all the dreams I had as a kid. ... I'm just happy to be here, and I want to help the ballclub win."

Pence admitted he teared up a bit when Moore gave him the news. He got misty-eyed again on Saturday talking about the moment.

"I saw my teammates smiling and congratulating me," Pence said. "I've been with those guys for a long time. We've been through a lot. For them to be happy for me meant a lot to me."

Pence, the Astros' first pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and a native of Arlington, Texas, appeared unfazed by the media crush waiting for him when he walked to his locker Saturday afternoon. He smiled as he explained his elation at being called up for the first time, and he gave assurances that he's not worried that the weight of the Astros' recent struggles are now riding on his shoulders.

"I don't feel any weight, any pressure," he said. "I know what I can do. My whole life I've been able to hit. I'm going to come up here with that attitude. I'm going to get in the box and be ready to swing if they throw me a strike. Hopefully, I can bring some energy, because that's the way I play.

"I'm going to play energetic and I'm excited. I play with a lot of emotion. I don't stress out about any of this. I'm not going to get worried. If they get me out, they get me out. I'm going to get them next time."

Pence started in center field Saturday, hitting sixth.

Nine is fine: Considering Pence wore a much higher number in Spring Training, he was more than happy to see a jersey with the No. 9 hanging in his locker when he arrived at Minute Maid Park on Saturday.

"I didn't have a say in it, but I like it because I wore [No.] 9 in college," he said. "I think I wore [No.] 9 in [short-season Class A] Tri-City [in 2004]. I can't complain about that. It's a lot better than 84."

Team meeting: The Astros held a 15-minute players-only meeting before batting practice Saturday to go over some basic rules of thumb that they were hoping will snap them out of their funk.

"It was more of a meeting to say, 'Look, when you get into a big spot, when you get a chance to drive some runs in, don't feel like you have to do it,'" Lance Berkman said. "'Nobody has to do anything. Instead, what you should do is worry about competing well, concentrating and just try to beat the other guy on an individual basis. Then, we'll be OK.'

"That was the general tenor of the meeting -- let's not buy into the panic, let's not buy into the black cloud that's hanging over the clubhouse and really let this thing snowball on us. Let's go out there and try to compete, and not worry about the end result -- worry more about the process."

Reactions: Through batting practice Saturday, Lance Berkman had not heard any feedback from general manager Tim Purpura or manager Phil Garner regarding his statements following Friday's game. But it's safe to say the topic will be addressed, behind closed doors.

"I will address my feelings about that to Lance directly," Purpura said.

Berkman called the decision to bench Chris Burke in favor of Pence a "horrible move."

"I think Hunter Pence deserves to play in the big leagues," Berkman said Friday. "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."

Asked for his reaction, Garner said, "This will be in-house. Our focus needs to be on winning. Everybody out there has an opinion on this ballclub, but our focus needs to be on winning. Let's do what we can as individuals to produce some wins."

Loretta plays: Mark Loretta made his second start of the season at third base on Saturday, hitting second. The 35-year-old veteran entered the game with a .361 average, and he may see more playing time in the near future.

Garner opted not to tip his hand.

"This is just the lineup for today," he said.

Thinner in the 'pen: Garner isn't thrilled with the notion of carrying only 11 pitchers, but Friday's transactions, which included designating lefty Stephen Randolph for assignment, leaves him one reliever short.

But he has two long relievers -- Brian Moehler and Dave Borkowski -- who are capable of logging multiple innings, and Garner hopes that will be enough to fill the void.

"I feel like [11 pitchers is] the way we need to go right now," Garner said.

Coming up: The Astros and Brewers will wrap up the series on Sunday with an afternoon game at Minute Maid Park, beginning at 1:05 CT. Right-hander Woody Williams (0-3, 5.90) will face right-hander Claudio Vargas (1-0, 4.76).

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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