Notes: Dedicated Backe back Tuesday
Astros go with six-man rotation; Patton gets first Wrigley taste
CHICAGO -- After a six-game rehab tour through the Minor Leagues, Brandon Backe will make his first Astros start on Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Backe's return will fall three days short of the one-year mark since he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
"It's been a long road," Backe said. "It's been a lot of traveling [through his rehab tour]. I don't want to make it sound like I don't care, but it's obvious this has been my goal, to pitch this year [for the Astros]. Obviously, I've reached it. But that's just the start of it. I've got to go out there and compete and do well and fill my goal."
Backe threw 88 pitches in his final rehab start on Wednesday, so he probably won't be on too strict of a pitch count when he faces the Brewers next week.
While Backe admitted he won't be completely at 100 percent until next season, he's anxious to test himself in a Major League game. He also takes pride in having returned from the surgery at the 12-month mark, considering Tommy John patients usually are given a 12 to 18 month estimated recovery time.
"At 16 months, or next year, I should be at 100 percent and good to go," he said. "It's kind of a show of hard work, to make it back this early. Obviously, my surgeon, Dr. [James] Andrews, did a heck of a job, and the trainers, everybody that's had a part of my recovery has done a heck of a job, including myself."
Chris Sampson was activated from the disabled list on Thursday and can expect to slide into a middle relief role in the immediate future. Having spent a month on the DL, the right-hander is looking forward to spending more time at his locker than in the training room, where he's been a regular lately.
"I am glad I don't have to show up super early and get the early treatment, all the icebags on the elbow," he said. "I'm excited I don't have to continue to do that much anymore."
Six-man rotation: For the time being, the Astros will employ a six-man rotation, but that doesn't mean every starting pitcher will receive regular work.
Ace righty Roy Oswalt is going to pitch every fifth day, no matter what. Veteran Woody Williams can expect a similar schedule. All other starters -- Backe, Matt Albers, Troy Patton and Wandy Rodriguez -- will fill out the remaining days.
Those four can expect more then five days off in between starts every so often, especially with the upcoming scheduled off-days next Thursday and Monday.
"We have to take care of Roy," interim manager Cecil Cooper said. "He's the franchise. He's the anchor, and you take care of the anchor. He's not going to miss a day here and there. He's going to stay on his schedule. That's what you've got to do."
First Wrigley start: Patton is just now beginning his Major League career, but he's well aware of the history and tradition that surrounds Wrigley Field.
Patton is looking forward to starting Saturday's game at the Friendly Confines, but he'll also embrace the day after, when he can stop and take in the scene a bit.
"I'll be more excited on Sunday, when it's over and I get to relax," he said. "Today, I'm not going to enjoy it that much, and tomorrow I'll be working. Sunday, I'll be able to watch and soak it in a little bit."
Surgery a success: Jason Jennings underwent surgery on Thursday to repair the torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. The procedure was performed in Dallas by Dr. John Conway, with Astros medical director Dr. David Lintner overseeing the process.
Jennings is expected to begin rehabbing in approximately 10 days.
Lonely at the top: Prior to this week, Cooper and first-base coach Jose Cruz have sat next to each other in the first-class section on the team charter, a seating arrangement the two friends have enjoyed for the last three years.
But as the Astros boarded the plane Thursday afternoon, Cooper, at the urging of his coaches, retreated to the first row -- the traditional spot for the manager.
"After about a half hour, I kind of got up and went back there [to Cruz's seat]," Cooper said. "It gets lonely up there. People leave you alone."
Endorsement: Cooper and Commissioner Bud Selig have a long-standing friendship, dating back to the mid 1970s, when Selig, then the owner of the Brewers, traded for Cooper and watched the first baseman blossom into a two-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star.
On Thursday, Selig gave a heartfelt endorsement in favor of Cooper staying on as the Astros' manager past the rest of this season. Cooper appreciates the vote of confidence, especially since it came from Major League Baseball's highest-ranking official.
"Hopefully, he'll have some influence there," Cooper said with a laugh. "I'm tickled that he thinks that much of me. Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity to do that."
Coming up: The Astros and Cubs will meet again at Wrigley Field on Saturday, beginning at 12:05 p.m. CT. Patton (0-1, 4.76) will face Cubs righty Jason Marquis (10-8, 4.26).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.