Versatile Kata back in the bigs

Versatile Kata back in the bigs

PITTSBURGH -- The last time Matt Kata played in a Major League game, he was on the giving end of an ugly collision in which he concussed a teammate.

Kata was back in the same stadium, PNC Park, on Saturday night for his first game in a Major League uniform since Sept. 29, 2007. That night, Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson ran head-first into Kata -- who was playing second base -- fielding a grounder up the middle.

Wilson ended up OK, and Kata spent the entire 2008 season with Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pirates organization. He signed with the Astros as a Minor League free agent in December and got his chance to join the big club after second baseman Kazuo Matsui was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring after Friday night's game.

"It's nice to be back," Kata said shortly after arriving in the visitors' clubhouse at PNC Park on Saturday. "It's one of those situations where [hoping for another shot at the Majors] can't always be on your mind. You have to always play your game when you're down, and whatever happens, happens. It's a situation where they need help here, so hopefully, I can fill in and do some good things and stick."

If that's to happen, and Kata -- a Cleveland native who was hitting .277 with two home runs and 14 RBIs for Triple-A Round Rock -- is to stick, it'll likely be because of his versatility. Over the course of his both his Major and Minor League careers, Kata -- who came up as a second baseman and specializes at second and third -- has played every position except pitcher and catcher during his 11 professional seasons.

"My first pro ball manager when I signed, Mike Brumley, he kind of just always stressed, 'Get into the outfield, just see how balls come off the bat. Bounce around the infield,' " Kata said. "Just knowing that versatility, it can lengthen a career, and it obviously helps out a team. It's nice for a manager to know he can look down the bench and see a guy who can play all over the field."

Cecil Cooper is the latest beneficiary of Kata's ability to play almost anywhere. On a team already stocked with middle infielders and utility men other than Matsui -- Geoff Blum, Jeff Keppinger and Edwin Maysonet fit that profile to varying degrees, and Miguel Tejada is a standout shortstop -- Kata showed the Astros in Spring Training as well as with the Express that he can do it all.

"He can play all over the infield and the outfield," Cooper said. "I anticipate him just being that utility guy, and if we need him to play second or short or play third, he'll do that. He just gives us an extra bench player that we can maneuver around a little bit."

Chris Adamski is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.