Pence dropped to seventh in order

Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who entered Monday hitting .229 in August, batted seventh in the lineup Monday against the Cubs for the first time since the first two games of the season. Pence, who has hit primarily sixth this year, said he wasn’t bothered by the decision.

“Coop’s doing everything he can,” Pence said. “Whatever he needs me to do, I’m going to try to do.”

Manager Cecil Cooper had Jeff Keppinger hitting second and playing second Monday, which dropped Miguel Tejada to fifth and Geoff Blum to sixth.

“It’s not any kind of punishment,” Cooper said of Pence. “Just the way it falls out.”

Blum was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 23. He rejoined the Astros on Saturday after traveling back to Houston on Thursday to have a nerve irritation in his back examined. Cooper said Keppinger could start for Berkman on Wednesday.

“I haven’t talked to him about it, but I might decide to do that,” Cooper said. “[Keppinger] is swinging the bat pretty good.”

Keppinger hit .190 on the first six games of the current road trip.

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For Astros manager Cecil Cooper, playing at Wrigley Field was akin to returning to the scene of the crime. It was here that Houston’s late-season swoon kicked into high gear with a miserable four-game series against the Cubs in which they were outscored 24-3 and outhit 27-13 in the final two games.

Houston’s starting rotation pitched only eight innings in the final three games of the series, while the bullpen logged 17 innings. The Astros never recovered from the extra toll that was placed on the bullpen and arrived back at Wrigley Field on Monday 14 games out of first place, having lost 12 games since their previous trip to the Friendly Confines.

“That kind of got us going in a negative direction,” he said.

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Astros manager Cecil Cooper confirmed that right-hander Felipe Paulino will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Cubs. It will be his first start since allowing nine hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings on July 4 in San Francisco. Brian Moehler will start Tuesday’s game.

“We think he deserves an opportunity to pitch,” Cooper said of Paulino.

 

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