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Bourn still adjusting to NL parks

Bourn still adjusting to NL parks

SAN DIEGO -- In his third full season in the Major Leagues and second as a starter, Astros center fielder Michael Bourn is still feeling his away around the National League when it comes to playing defense.

He certainly knows how to navigate Tal's Hill at Minute Maid Park and understands how well the ball carries in Cincinnati, but things can be trickier at some of the parks in which Bourn hasn't played as many games in as he has while making the rounds in the NL Central.

That's why Bourn will make it a point to take some fly balls during batting practice prior to Friday's series opener at AT&T Park in San Francisco against the Giants, just like he did before the first game Houston's just-completed four-game series in San Diego.

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Bourn has started only three games at AT&T Park, all last year.

"The right-center gap has a funny angle, and the balls kicks off the right-field wall differently," Bourn said. "The first day you get there, you need to take some fly balls and see how the ball kicks off the wall and take it from there. And the wind can be tricky when it blows off the water right behind the field. We'll see what goes on."

After taking some lumps last year on offense in his first season in Houston, Bourn has blossomed this year into the player the Astros hoped they would get when they traded, among others, Brad Lidge to the Phillies following the 2007 season.

Bourn entered Thursday hitting .289 following a 1-for-14 slump, but he led the NL in steals (25), triples (six) and infield hits (20). One of the fastest players in the game, Bourn's speed has helped him develop into a top-notch defensive player, too.

Bourn made a terrific catch on Tal's Hill on June 11 in which he backpedaled, fell on his rear and caught the ball on the incline to rob the Cubs' Micah Hoffpauir of a hit. But the Houston native has been racing into gaps and making difficult catches all season.

"He's up there now as one of the better [center fielders]," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "The guy runs down balls, and you know he's going to catch it if it stays in the ballpark. He's learning how he goes about it, and once he gets to know the hitters better, it's going to be a lot easier for him. He's using a lot of speed now to make up for some mistakes, but he's been phenomenal."

Bourn admits he needs to get better jumps.

"I think I'm able to get better jumps on balls sometimes and able to read them better, but I could still work on that a little bit more," he said. "Sometimes I go back when I shouldn't, but what I try to work on in batting practice is going forward on the ball a lot more. I feel like I've had to dive less this year than in the past.

"The only time I had to dive this year is when the ball is in the gaps. I try not to dive when the ball is in front of me. If I can stay on my feet, I try to stay on my feet. I was told a good outfielder stays on his feet a lot and doesn't dive all the time."

Bourn certainly wouldn't mind being considered for a Gold Glove one day, but even though it's a defensive award, he knows it typically doesn't go to players who are having poor offensive years.

"We'll see how long it takes," he said. "I hope I can. I take pride on both sides of the game, offense and defense. I try to make my mark any way I can, and hopefully somebody will notice it and see that I can hold my own."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Felipe Paulino (2-4, 5.51 ERA)
Paulino turned in his best performance of the season last time out against the Tigers. Making his first since June 7 after being on the disabled list with a strained right groin, the right-hander set career-highs in strikeouts and innings pitched, fanning nine over seven frames of three-hit ball. Paulino allowed just one run and retired the last 10 batters he faced, earning his first win as a starter this season. Paulino has never faced the Giants in his career. He is 0-1 with an 8.01 ERA in two starts against the National League West this season, both coming against the Colorado Rockies.

SF: RHP Ryan Sadowski (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sadowski was a sensation in his Major League debut on Sunday in Milwaukee, allowing four hits in six shutout innings as the Giants prevailed, 7-0. Sadowski, who struck out only two batters, can reach the low-90s with his fastball but relies mostly on location and late movement. He displayed adequate control against the Brewers, issuing three walks. Sadowski became the first Giants pitcher to win his Major League debut since Joe Nathan in 1999.

Tidbits
The Astros are 15-5 against NL West teams after taking three of four in San Diego. ... Astros starting pitchers are 6-1 with a 2.16 ERA in the team's past 12 games (8-4). ... The Astros' bullpen had a 2.51 ERA in 33 games from May 23-July 1. ... First baseman Lance Berkman has reached base with a hit or walk in 47 of 53 games since May 1.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

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

On television
• FSH

On radio
• KTRH 740, KLAT 1010 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Astros (Russ Ortiz, 3-3, 3.36) at Giants (Tim Lincecum, 8-2, 2.37), 3:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Astros (Roy Oswalt, 4-4, 4.02) at Giants (Randy Johnson, 8-5, 4.70), 3:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Astros (Mike Hampton, 4-5, 4.44) vs. Pirates (Virgil Vasquez, 1-1, 3.75), 7:05 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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