It's hard to say whether Matt Downs boosted the Astros on Thursday or the Houston Astros boosted Matt Downs. Either way, the result was good for all parties.
The backup infielder got his first start of the season and delivered two hits and three runs in Houston's 11-4 victory over the Nationals at Washington.
Downs had been the only Astros player not to start over the team's first 13 games. Brad Mills had wanted to get him in there, but couldn't find a chance to take hot-hitting third baseman Chris Johnson or second baseman Jose Altuve out of the lineup until the former sat on Thursday.
"We need to get him a couple of at-bats to get him going a little bit," Mills said, as Downs had begun the season 0-for-6 in a pinch-hitting role. "We all saw the job that he did last year, and we just need to get those at-bats to speed him up a little bit."
Message delivered. Downs hit one of a team-record three triples in the first inning and added a double as part of Houston's 17-hit attack. He knows he has to take advantage of these opportunities when they come.
"It's like I said last year, my job is when they give them breaks, to fill in and try to help the team win that day," Downs said. "So I was just trying to get a hit and play good defense."
Downs is still the primary right-handed hitter off the bench. He had great success in that role last year, and the Astros hope one start can jolt his production for 2012.