Pence could sit another day for Astros

Pence could sit another day

PHOENIX -- Jose Cruz Jr. started Tuesday's game in right field for the Astros, and it's likely he'll be there for Wednesday's finale with the Diamondbacks, too.

Manager Cecil Cooper is growing weary of his team's offensive shortcomings and hopes injecting some veteran hitters into the mix will help. Perhaps "benching" is too strong of a word to describe Hunter Pence's situation, but it's also clear Cooper wants to give him some time off with hopes the outfielder can work out of a funk that has caused his batting average to drop to .242.

"Sometimes reflection helps a young player," Cooper said. "He looked like he was on his way, but the last two, three days, he kind of stepped back a little bit."

Pence took early batting practice at Chase Field on Tuesday, as did two other struggling young hitters -- Michael Bourn and J.R. Towles. Cooper isn't blaming only those three for the team's offensive problems, but as he tries to find a combination that works, one or all of those three could be exposed to less playing time in favor of veterans.

Pence started the season in a massive slump but appeared to have worked out of it during a recent eight-game hitting streak from April 18 through Friday. In his last three games, however, Pence is 0-for-10. The good news is Pence appears to know what the problem is.

"I'm flying open with my front side, which is exactly what I was doing before I corrected it," he said. "Then I got to flying open again the last couple games. We didn't take [batting practice] for two days in a row [last Saturday and Sunday] and for me, sometimes that kind of sets me back a little bit."

Cooper said he isn't necessarily surprised that his young hitters are struggling a bit, but he is a little discouraged that it's happening all at one time.

"The is the first time for all of them," Cooper said. "We know they're going to press. If you would have asked me in spring if it were to happen like this, I would say there is no way it's going to happen this way. But here we are. We'll work around it the best we can and let some of the veterans play a little bit."

Cooper also has asked several of those veterans to spend a little extra time with the youngsters, even if it's just to share past experiences and offer encouragement. Geoff Blum and Mark Loretta have reached out to Bourn, while Darin Erstad has spent a bit of time with Pence.

"[Blum] said, 'Keep going, keep plugging away,'" Bourn said. "Loretta told me the exact same line. Lance [Berkman] doesn't want to press on you and try to make you do this and make you do that. I understand."

Still, Bourn wouldn't mind a few pointers.

"Nobody's said too, too much -- just 'Hey, keep going," Bourn said, adding with a laugh, "I'm like, 'Tell me something. Tell me what I'm doing wrong.'"

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Shawn Chacon (0-0, 2.45 ERA)
Chacon has produced a quality start in each of his five outings, with nothing to show for it. The right-hander walked six in his last start Friday against the Cardinals, but held them to two runs and took a no-decision when the Astros came back to win, 3-2. Chacon faced the Diamondbacks in one relief appearance in 2007, allowing one earned run over two-thirds of an inning. In his career, Chacon is 2-6 with five saves in 18 games against the D-backs.

ARI: LHP Randy Johnson (1-1, 2.70 ERA)
Johnson had his finest outing of the season last time out against the Padres at PETCO Park. The Big Unit picked up career win No. 285 by allowing just one run over six innings. Johnson has now made three starts since beginning the year on the disabled list because of back surgery, and he appears to be rounding into form. His fastball picked up a couple of mph last time out, and he seemed to have better command of it.

Tidbits
The Astros wore their gray road jerseys for Tuesday's game with the Diamondbacks, one of only a handful of games in the last several years that they wore the road grays. They usually wear their brick red jerseys on the road, but the Diamondbacks, who have the same colors as the Astros, wore their red jerseys, as they do every Tuesday and Friday. ... Third baseman Ty Wigginton played nine innings in Round Rock's 2-1 win over Tucson on Tuesday. Wigginton went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and helped turn a double play in his second rehab assignment with the Express.

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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
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On radio
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Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 2-3, 5.75) vs. Brewers (Carlos Villanueva, 1-2, 4.66), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 1-3, 4.65) vs. Brewers (Manny Parra, 1-1, 4.94), 6:05 p.m. CT

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