Prior to Matsui's recent health issues, manager Cecil Cooper envisioned Pence as a spark for the bottom half of the order. He figured with Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada hitting in front of him, Pence would have plenty of RBI opportunities as the sixth hitter.
Cooper admires Pence's aggressiveness and doesn't want him to lose that quality, another reason why he likes him more as a six-hitter than a two. Pence understands this and is ready for the lineup change when Matsui is activated off the DL.
But Pence will be aggressive no matter what. He also wants to be smart about it. He was critical of his approach during the Astros' first two games, both of which resulted in losses.
"I've been swinging at a lot of bad pitches lately," he said. "If I make them come to me and I get my pitch, I'm going to drive the ball a little bit more. I don't feel too far off. I'm right there and I had a good spring. The hits are going to come."
A few hours later, Pence doubled in his first at-bat. He also kept a ninth-inning rally going with a base hit off Trevor Hoffman, which Lance Berkman followed with a game-winning three-run homer.
Now in his sophomore season, Pence is adjusting to his new spot in the batting order as well as a new position. He moved to right field to make room for Michael Bourn, and so far the speedy duo is working well together in the outfield.
"Bourn is really easy to play with," Pence said. "He communicates well and he can move, so he can cover a lot of ground. We can give each other a little leeway because we can cover that gap pretty good."
Pence also enjoys watching his new teammate fly around the basepaths and hopes to join Bourn as a basestealing force for the team this year.
"It's going to be a lot more fun to watch us once we get going and really get moving around these bags like we're going to do," he said. "It's very exciting."
HOU: RHP Shawn Chacon (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Chacon, who signed with the Astros after Spring Training was already underway, won a spot in the rotation with a solid spring showing. The right-hander went 4-3 with a 3.52 ERA over 60 relief appearances for the Pirates in 2007, and he was 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA over four starts. He started the season in the bullpen, moved to the rotation in May and back to the bullpen to finish the season. He was scored upon twice in his final 16 outings from Aug. 11 to the end of the season, but did not pitch in the final 10 games due to tightness in his right elbow.
SD: LHP Randy Wolf (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Wolf, a 2003 All-Star while with the Phillies, signed a one-year deal worth $4.75 million in the offseason. He makes his Padres debut on Thursday against the Astros. Wolf spent last season with the Dodgers, but didn't pitch after July 3, and he underwent shoulder surgery in September to repair a frayed labrum. Wolf was 9-6 with a 4.73 ERA in 18 starts with the Dodgers. He's completely healthy now. Wolf is 4-4 with a 3.98 ERA in 10 career starts against the Astros. He did not face the Astros in 2007.
Several backup players will receive starts during this road trip, including Jose Cruz Jr., who will probably be in the lineup Thursday. Darin Erstad will likely start one of the games at Wrigley Field this weekend. "To make sure they stay sharp," Cooper said. ... Lee recorded his 1,500th hit on Wednesday when he homered off Greg Maddux in the sixth inning. Interestingly, Lee's first Major League hit was also a home run. He homered in his first plate appearance on May 7, 1999, while playing for the White Sox.
Buy tickets now
to catch the game in person.
On the Internet
Official game notes
KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)
Friday: Astros (Chris Sampson, 0-0, 0.00) at Cubs (Rich Hill, 0-0, 0.00), 1:20 p.m. CT
Saturday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 0-1, 5.06) at Cubs (Jason Marquis, 0-0, 0.00), 12:05 p.m. CT
Sunday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 0-1, 3.60) at Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 0-0, 0.00), 1:20 p.m. CT