Day off proves beneficial for Pence

Day off proves beneficial to Pence

HOUSTON -- Hunter Pence's name was absent from the Astros lineup in the finale of the Brewers series Thursday, but the right fielder reappeared Friday for the first game against the Yankees.

Astros manager Cecil Cooper had given Pence, who had gone 5-for-24 with three runs and three RBIs in Houston's homestand dating back to June 6, a "mental break" to figure out his problems at the plate.

"I wasn't feeling comfortable, so I was hitting a lot [in the batting cages]," Pence said. "Sometimes you lose it. This is baseball. There are ups and downs. I was not feeling very comfortable with my swing."

Pence apparently needed just one day to figure out his batting issues, and Cooper had him in the leadoff spot for the opener against the Yanks.

He said Friday was the first day he felt better, and he took a lot less time to feel comfortable before the game.

Cooper said he had not talked to Pence before reinserting him into the lineup, but he felt sure the second-year player was ready to go.

"He did tell me about an adjustment he was trying to make actually the day before yesterday," Cooper said. "Hopefully, he's made it and he's ready to go."

Pence has been in the leadoff spot since a June 5 loss in Pittsburgh. Cooper moved him to the No. 1 spot while moving center fielder Michael Bourn down to No. 7.

Pence collected two hits in his first two games batting leadoff and was 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs in his third game there. Cooper said he will stay in that spot for a while.

"When you're a pitcher and you're facing Hunter Pence in a ballgame -- he's a dangerous guy," Cooper said. "You can be down 1-0 pretty quick. You can't just lay one in there and say, 'OK, I'm going to get ahead of this guy.' He can get you pretty quick. He can get a double, and he can also steal a base."

Pence said although he feels he recovered quickly, he is not upset about being taken out of the lineup for a day.

While it can sometimes negatively affect a player mentally to be given a day off while struggling, he said in his case, it really helped.

"I think Coop read the situation right, and it gave me some time to recoup," Pence said. "Sometimes, when you take a step back and watch others and really think about things, it helps you out. There are players like Lance [Berkman] and Carlos [Lee] who really don't do that, but they're superstars. Maybe one day I won't need that, but right now I do."

Pitching matchup
HOU: LHP Wandy Rodriguez (2-2, 1.99 ERA)
Rodriguez could have, and should have, won his last outing, had it not been for a terrible defensive showing by his teammates. Rodriguez handled the Cardinals beautifully through six shutout innings, but the bottom fell out in the seventh, and the Cardinals scored four unearned runs. Rodriguez's home ERA continues to shine. The left-hander has a 1.08 ERA at Minute Maid Park over four starts this year, allowing three runs over 25 innings. Rodriguez has never faced the Yankees.

NYY: RHP Mike Mussina (9-4, 3.82 ERA)
Mussina came away with a no-decision in another impressive performance Monday afternoon against the Royals. The righty gave up seven hits and just two runs in eight innings. Mussina blanked Kansas City through the first six innings before giving up a two-run home run in the seventh. He got quick outs and avoided deep pitch counts, limiting his total to 89 pitches. Mussina recorded three strikeouts and no walks in his 14th start of the season.

Interleague Record: 88-83 overall, 1-3 in 2008

2008 Interleague Schedule
• May 16 at Rangers: Lost, 8-16
• May 17 at Rangers: Lost, 2-6
• May 18 at Rangers: Won, 5-4
• June 13 vs. Yankees: Lost, 2-1
• June 14-15 vs. Yankees
• June 17-19 at Orioles
• June 20-22 at Rays
• June 24-26 vs. Texas
• June 27-29 vs. Boston

Tidbits
Right-hander Felipe Paulino will continue his rehabilitation process in Houston, where he'll work with the club's athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches. Paulino had a setback recently while working to come back from a pinched nerve in his right arm. Whether he can pitch for the Astros this year remains to be seen. "I feel really great now," he said. "It's going to be step by step and we're going to go slower. I don't feel 100 percent yet. I don't know how long it's going to be until I'm ready." General manager Ed Wade remains hopeful that Paulino will pitch this year, but he's guaranteeing nothing. "We're optimistic, but right now, there's enough uncertainty that we can't count on it."

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN-HD, CSN (Español)

On radio
• KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)

Up next
• Sunday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 5-6, 5.06) vs. Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 7-2, 4.30), 1:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Astros (Brandon Backe, 4-8, 5.00) at Orioles (Garrett Olson, 5-2, 4.53), 6:05 p.m. CT

Krysten Oliphant is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.