Notes: Pence heeds Biggio's advice
Rookie center fielder hits off tee, goes 4-for-5 on Sunday
HOUSTON -- In a week where Craig Biggio captured his 3,000th career hit and won National League Player of the Week honors, it would be completely understandable for him to be temporarily caught up in his personal glory.
But for Biggio, a dedication to winning and being a good teammate has always surpassed his personal goals, and last week was no exception. Although Biggio has been heating up at the plate, center fielder Hunter Pence had cooled down for a stretch, going 3-for-23 between Tuesday and Saturday.
So when Pence mentioned to Biggio that he was feeling a bit uncomfortable in the batter's box, Biggio was quick to offer advice.
"I owe a lot to Biggio," Pence said. "There were a couple of games there where I didn't feel good at the plate. I wasn't comfortable at all in the box. He tells me, 'Why don't you go and hit off the tee right now, after the game, so you don't take a million swings tomorrow and tire yourself out?'
"So I took his advice, went in there and no one bothered me. I could hit as long as I wanted and I just sat there hitting off the tee until I finally figured out what I was doing wrong, made the adjustment and I felt a lot better [Sunday].
"[I was adjusting] my hands and the path to the ball," Pence said. "I was pulling off with my top hand so that there was no way I could hit the ball the other way. But I was trying with my body to go the other way. I was pretty much grounding everything, and if I did hit it the other way, I popped it up. So I just changed the bat path to stay through the ball."
The adjustment paid immediate dividends, with Pence going 4-for-5 on Sunday and raising his batting average from .330 to .340.
"He's a good kid," Biggio said of Pence. "I'll give a lot [of advice] if he'll listen. And obviously, he does. His future and his ceiling are so high. If you can help him out in any way, just with little things here and there like talking about the game, he listens. He's going to be here a long time, and if I can help him out in any way, I'm very happy to do that."
Pence also turns to veteran Mark Loretta for advice, and as with Biggio, the admiration goes both ways.
"[Pence] doesn't really need a lot of direction," Loretta said. "He's a focused, hard-working guy, and he handles himself like a veteran here and he's soaking everything in. He's always in the batting cage or the video room."
Simulated success: Houston closer Brad Lidge threw 27 pitches in a simulated game on the field before batting practice, and if all goes well, he could be activated from the disabled list as soon as Wednesday.
"I was real happy with what happened today," Lidge said. "I dialed it up to where I'd be if I were in a game. I felt real good today. I'll have to be cautious about how I'll feel at the end of today and [Tuesday] when I wake up, but I'm very optimistic."
Lidge, who is recovering from a strained left oblique muscle, pitched against Orlando Palmeiro and Chris Burke.
"His slider looked sharp," Burke said. "His fastball had a lot of life to it. They're all good signs. As long as he's not having any pain, he's going to be effective. I'd say he was throwing in the 95-to-96 [mph] range, and that's plenty good enough."
If there is no soreness, Lidge will use Tuesday to rest and prepare himself to throw on Wednesday. Manager Phil Garner hopes to be able to first insert Lidge into a non-save situation to ease him back, rather than immediately return him to the closer's role.
Lefty troubles: Over their careers, Houston power hitters Lance Berkman and Mike Lamb have struggled to generate pop against lefties, with Berkman's power going down when he bats right-handed and Lamb lacking the consistent at-bats against southpaws.
But Berkman homered Sunday against Colorado lefty Tom Martin, and that may be a good sign heading into the Philadelphia series. The Phillies started left-hander Jamie Moyer on Monday and will start lefty Cole Hamels on Wednesday.
"It's improving," said Berkman of his right-handed swing. "It's probably not where it needs to be, but it's not far off. Any time you can make solid contact, it's a good sign.
"The key for me batting right-handed is finding a way to be more consistent. I can go up there one time and feel pretty good, like [Sunday], and then the next time it's not always there."
In Lamb's case, Sunday was a continuation of a season-long trend. Lamb laced a two-out, two-run single to center off Colorado All-Star closer Brian Fuentes, and he's now batting .400 with a .467 on-base percentage and .720 slugging percentage against lefties this season.
While Morgan Ensberg had been receiving the bulk of playing time at third base against lefties, Lamb's recent success prompted Garner to make a change and insert him into Monday's lineup against Moyer.
"I think getting at-bats against left-handed pitchers helps," Lamb said. "In the past couple of years here, if there's been a left-handed starter or they've brought in a left-handed reliever, there's been times where I'm pinch-hit for or didn't play. I think the amount of time in between at-bats against left-handers makes it more difficult.
"I am capable of hitting left-handed pitching. I don't feel as though I'm at a disadvantage."
Coming up: The Astros will play the second of a three-game set with the Phillies on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Roy Oswalt (7-5, 3.42 ERA) will face righty Adam Eaton (7-5, 5.75 ERA).
Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.