Despite lobbying to start, Albert Pujols was held out of the lineup for a doubleheader. Against the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa may want to give in to the star slugger’s wishes.
If the Cardinals first baseman has his way, a strained left calf won’t stop him from trying to continue his hot hitting against the Astros this season when the NL Central rivals open a three-game series Friday night.
Pujols did not start either game of St. Louis’ day-night doubleheader with Washington on Thursday. He did pinch-hit in both games, homering as the Cardinals won the opener 4-1, and striking out in the ninth inning of a 10-inning 10-9 loss in the finale.
Pujols, who was injured in Tuesday night’s 6-1 win over the Nationals, felt he was healthy enough to start. La Russa, though, is being cautious with his No. 3 hitter, who has 15 home runs on the season and 13 hits in his last 25 at-bats.
“He’s politicking to get in (the lineup),” La Russa told the Cardinals’ official Web site.
A matchup with Houston (31-30) might be a good time to start Pujols. He is batting .467 (14-for-30) with five home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs in nine games versus the Astros this season.
St. Louis was also without center fielder Rick Ankiel (right knee infection) in the doubleheader. Ankiel s accompanying the Cardinals (36-26) to Houston, but his status is uncertain.
Even if Pujols and Ankiel do play Friday, the Cardinals’ hitting star might end up being starting pitcher Braden Looper (7-4, 5.03 ERA).
Looper had two singles, scored twice, and drove in a run to raise his batting average to .429 - tops among pitchers in the major leagues - in a 7-4 win over Pittsburgh on Sunday. He allowed three runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings.
The right-hander has already faced Houston three times this season, going 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA. For his career, he is 7-4 with a 3.12 ERA in seven starts and 30 relief appearances against the Astros.
Houston will counter with Brian Moehler (2-2, 4.54 ERA), who is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in five starts after being used out of the bullpen in April. The right-hander gave up three runs and six hits while striking out a season-high six in five innings as Houston lost 4-1 to Milwaukee on Saturday night.
Moehler is 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA in five career starts against the Cardinals, but hasn’t faced them since April 2003. Pujols is 6-for-9 with three home runs and a double against Moehler.
Astros first baseman Lance Berkman has a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .382 on the season, but hasn’t been able to help Houston break out of its slump. The Astros have lost seven of eight, averaging 1.6 runs during that stretch.
Houston lost 4-3 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night, dropping within one game of the .500 mark for the first time since it was 18-17 on May 8. The modest run total was nonetheless the most scored by the Astros since an 8-2 win over the Cardinals on May 27.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and find a way to get things going because we’re not hitting at all,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. “Seven, eight games, you figure someone will break out and we haven’t been able to do that.”
The Cardinals are 6-3 against the Astros this season.