Cooper shakes up lineup

Cooper shakes up lineup

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Cecil Cooper ordered a rare Sunday morning batting-practice session and then shuffled the lineup for the series finale against the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.

"Just trying to change things up," Cooper said of the decision to hold batting practice before a Sunday day game, the first time he's done that as manager. "I was thinking about it yesterday. Some guys hit inside, the rest are [on the field]."

Having lost four in a row and 13 of their last 16 to drop a season-low 11 games out of first place, Cooper is hoping the extra BP will help get the team going. He also held out three regulars -- first baseman Lance Berkman, second baseman Kazuo Matsui and third baseman Ty Wigginton -- from the starting lineup and started Darin Erstad, Mark Loretta and Geoff Blum, respectively, in their places.

Berkman is batting just .200 (6-for-30) on the homestand, including 1-for-7 against the Yankees.

"He got a little tweak in the [left] leg yesterday, so we'll give him a day," Cooper said. "We were planning on it before the game. We talked about it extensively. We were talking about [taking] a couple of days in Baltimore. This way, we'll do today, Monday and possibly Tuesday."

With Berkman not at 100 percent and an off-day Monday, Cooper felt it made more sense to give Berkman a two-day breather -- though he is available to play or pinch-hit if needed.

Cooper is leaning toward having Berkman be the designated hitter when the team begins a road trip on Tuesday in Baltimore. That would give the Astros slugger three consecutive days of not having to play defense.

Cooper also wanted to give Matsui and Wigginton some time off and give Erstad, Blum and Loretta, veterans who have faced Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang before, the start against the New York right-hander. It also gives those players some at-bats before the stretch of Interleague road games, when all will likely see more plate appearances as the DH will be in use.

"That's kind of the whole idea," Cooper said. "I always try to do it that way to give those guys a chance to play. I'm going to try to rotate them a little bit in Baltimore as far as the DH."

As for Berkman, Cooper will wait and see how the Big Puma feels on Tuesday before deciding whether he will return to first or serve as DH.

"Everybody needs a break sometimes," Cooper said. "Lance has been a scuffling a little bit lately. I think I've seen his average probably drop 20 points here in the last few days, so it's a good break for him I think."

Jim Molony is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.