In a lineup that includes a second baseman on his way to 3,000 career hits, one of the biggest free agent signings of last winter, and the third-place finisher in last year’s NL MVP race, a recent call-up might be the most important player.
Recently, Craig Biggio, Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman have taken a backseat to center fielder Hunter Pence, who looks to continue his smooth transition to the majors as the Houston Astros complete a three-game interleague series against the Texas Rangers on Sunday.
The Astros (21-21) had lost seven straight when they called up Pence from Triple-A Round Rock on April 27 to help their struggling offense. Since Pence’s arrival, Houston is 12-4 when the rookie center fielder records a hit, and 0-4 when he doesn’t—including a loss on May 10 when Pence didn’t play.
The 24-year-old went 2-for-4 in Houston’s 6-1 win on Saturday, extending his hitting streak to seven games. He sparked a five-run rally with a leadoff single in the sixth.
Pence is batting .600 (15-for-25) during his hitting streak, and .356 overall.
“It’s early,” Pence told the team’s official Web site. “I still have a lot to prove.”
The Astros send Woody Williams (1-5, 5.10 ERA) to the mound as they go for their fourth win in five games against the Rangers dating back to last season. Williams is 4-2 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 career games—eight starts—against the Rangers, but hasn’t faced them since 2004.
Williams had a streak of four consecutive quality starts snapped as he was reached for four runs in seven innings on Tuesday. He didn’t get a decision in Houston’s 6-5, 10-inning win over San Francisco.
Saturday’s loss was the seventh in nine games for the Rangers (16-27), who have given up six or more runs seven times in that stretch.
On Saturday, however, they could have avoided the Astros’ big inning if not for a questionable call at third base. Houston scored three runs after third base umpire Tim Timmons appeared to miss a call on a fielder’s choice, but Texas also matched its season-low run total, the team’s lowest-scoring output since May 1.
“It didn’t have anything to do with the outcome of the game,” shortstop Michael Young told the Rangers’ official Web site. “If you get one run on (six) hits you’re not going to win the game.”
The Rangers have also lost eight of 10 on the road, where they are an AL-worst 6-17. Texas is batting .228 on the road, compared to its .261 average at Rangers Ballpark.
The Rangers hope to bounce back with Brandon McCarthy (3-4, 6.51) getting the start. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in three starts this month after going 1-4 with a 9.90 ERA in six April games—five starts.
McCarthy gave up three runs in six innings against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, failing to factor in the decision in Texas’ 4-3, 10-inning defeat.
In two relief appearances against the Astros, McCarthy has allowed one run and four hits in three innings.