Emptying the Astros notebook

Tommy Manzella, who has started 10 games at shortstop this year, was out of the starting lineup Wednesday in what manager Brad Mills said was a scheduled day off. Manzella is hitting .206 this season and took some extra batting practice before the game against the Marlins.

“The more swings I take, the closer I am to getting there,” Manzella said. “I’m not one to think you have to overwork, or even when you’re going good, you have to take a million swings to keep it there. Right now, I’m trying a bunch of different things, not to change anything I’m doing, but trying things that will click to get my swing back to where it is when I am successful.”

Manzella keeps detailed notes about his swing when he’s in a groove so he can go over them when he’s struggling. He says the swing feels the same as it does when he’s going good.

“I might be making a minor adjustment to where I’m doing something different, but it’ exactly how I felt when I was going good,” Manzella said.

Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop in place of Manzella. It’s his fourth start of the season at shortstop, and he’s started seven games at second base.

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The Astros’ bench has come up huge in recent games, with Jason Michaels winning Sunday’s game in Chicago with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the 10th inning and Kaz Matsui coming off the bench to push the winning across with the bunt in the eighth Tuesday. Michaels added a pinch-hit homer in that game.

And on Wednesday night, Geoff Blum delivered a pinch-hit, two-run triple in the seventh to win the game.

“Those guys are doing a really good job,” Mills said. “You feel for those guys that don’t get a whole lot of playing time, but when they come through like that you’re thrilled to death for them.”

Mills has a soft spot in his heart for players who are called upon to come off the bench in big situations. He played four years in the Majors and was primarily a bench player, so he knows how important it is to keep them fresh and informed of their roles.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see things done in a certain way, see how it works with the places I’ve been like with [manager] Terry [Francona] with Boston the last six years and how things have been successful,” said Mills, who spent the previous six years as Boston’s bench coach.

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Center fielder Michael Bourn, who led the National League with 61 stolen bases last year, stole second and third base in the first inning Tuesday and scored on a ground ball by Lance Berkman. Bourn can tell teams are keeping a closer eye on him this year.

“Last year they wouldn’t care if I was going, but now they stay in and pick,” Bourn said.

Bourn walked to lead off Wednesday’s game and promptly stole second, giving him three steals in two days. He only had one stolen base prior to the Marlins series. And he also ran his way out of a key rundown between second and third in the sixth inning.

Part of the reason Bourn hadn’t run much in the first two weeks of the season was because the Astros were often playing from behind and were in need of some big innings. Mills has given Bourn a green light to run when he sees fit.

“He’s made a big step in understanding when to go and when not to go and when he’s able to get a jump and when he’s not able,” he said. “That’s huge when base runners can make that turn and get that realization. That’s really huge.”

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Humberto Quintero got the start behind the plate for the Astros on Wednesday against the Marlins. It was the seventh start of the season for Quintero, which matches the seven starts for J.R. Towles. Quintero responded with his first homer of the season.

Mills said the reason Quintero was in the lineup Wednesday was so he could catch Bud Norris, who pitched so well when Quintero caught him five days earlier in St. Louis. Towles caught Norris in his first start of the season.

“That’s the reason he’s in there,” Mills said. “Bud threw the ball so well in St. Louis that I felt, ‘You know what? Let’s give Q another shot with him.’ It’s nothing against J.R. or anything. He’s been swinging the bat well and doing a good job behind the plate.

“We’re still in the phase of seeing what works and what doesn’t work and who fits where and why.”

 

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