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Backe in the saddle again for Astros

Backe in the saddle again for Astros

ARLINGTON -- Brandon Backe proved he was healthy and fully recovered from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery when he made 31 starts last year. Now he's ready to prove he can be an effective Major League starter.

Backe will make his first start of 2009 in Thursday's series finale against the Texas Rangers, taking the rotation spot of Mike Hampton, who was placed on the disabled list following Tuesday's game with a strained left groin.

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"I'm happy I'm pitching at least, but I don't want it to be like this, filling in for somebody that got hurt," Backe said. "When he gets off the DL, things are going to be jumbled around again. I'm just trying to step in and do what I can as a teammate to help fill in his spot for the time being."

Backe struggled last year, going 9-14 with a 6.05 ERA in 31 starts in his first full season since undergoing surgery. He led the league in earned runs (112) and home runs (36), but signed a $1.55 million contract and was competing for a spot in the rotation before missing two months when he injured a ribcage muscle in early March.

"I wouldn't say it's like a big start, big start," manager Cecil Cooper said. "But hopefully he can get us into the fourth or fifth inning. The guy hasn't pitched that many innings since his rehab, and that's been a while."

Backe hasn't distinguished himself so far this season in four relief appearances, which were his first since June 4, 2005. He's pitched nine innings and allowed 17 hits and 12 runs while striking out 10 batters. He's 1-2 with a 7.77 ERA in six career games (three starts) against the Rangers.

The right-hander isn't putting too much pressure on himself about winning a permanent spot in the rotation.

"There's no telling what's going to happen around here," he said. "I'm just trying to do my best on the mound when I'm called upon. Unfortunately, Hampton got hurt and I'm going to step in and try to eat up as many innings as I can."

Backe last faced the Rangers on May 18 of last year in Arlington, throwing 6 1/3 innings and allowing three runs to get the win.

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Brandon Backe (0-0, 12.00 ERA)
With Hampton going on the disabled list with a strained left groin following Tuesday's game, Backe will get the chance to make his first start of the season. Backe struggled as a starter last year, going 9-14 with a 6.05 ERA in 31 starts in his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He led the league in earned runs (112) and home runs (36), but missed two months when he injured a ribcage muscle in early March. As a reliever this year, Backe has pitched nine innings in four games and allowed 17 hits and 12 runs while striking out 10 batters. He's 1-2 with a 7.77 ERA in six career games (three starts) against the Rangers.

TEX: RHP Vicente Padilla (5-3, 4.82 ERA)
Padilla needed 108 pitches to get through five innings as the bullpen came through to complete an eight-hit shutout of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Padilla threw 71 pitches for strikes, 39 were foul balls. He threw his curveball and slider for strikes. Padilla has bounced back from being placed on waivers by winning consecutive games against two of baseball's best teams, Boston and Los Angeles. He has won four of his past five starts, going 4-1 with a 3.82 ERA over that stretch.

Tidbits
First baseman Lance Berkman has reached base via a hit or walk in 34 of 38 games since May 1. ... Outfielder Michael Bourn leads the National League in steals (22) and infield hits (16). ... The Astros are 12-5 when outfielder Hunter Pence hits in the No. 3 spot in the batting order this year.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• FS-H

On radio
• KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 3-3, 4.37) at Twins (Kevin Slowey, 9-2, 4.23), 7:10 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Astros (Brian Moehler, 3-4, 6.66) at Twins (Scott Baker, 4-6, 5.30), 6:10 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 5-6, 3.33) at Twins (Glen Perkins, 2-3, 5.09), 1:10 p.m. CT

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

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