Berkman, Pudge get day off for Astros
Cooper wants first baseman to recharge; Towles at catcher
CINCINNATI -- Astros manager Cecil Cooper originally planned to give Lance Berkman a day off in this weekend's series against the Atlanta Braves. But after talking with Houston's first baseman following Tuesday's game against the Reds, Cooper changed his mind and kept him out of Wednesday's lineup.
That move, along with the decision to give Ivan Rodriguez some rest, left Cooper with plenty of pinch-hitting options for the series finale against Cincinnati.
"It's a pretty nice looking bench there," said Cooper, who inserted Darin Erstad into Berkman's place and J.R. Towles into the position usually occupied by Rodriguez. "It's an All-Star bench."
Berkman talked earlier this week about how he was feeling more comfortable at the plate and how he was seeing the ball better. But after his 0-for-4 performance in Tuesday's game, which dropped his batting average to .164, he and Cooper chatted about a temporary solution.
The idea: rest Berkman Wednesday, and with the team's off-day Thursday in Atlanta, he'd have time to clear his mind.
"We thought today would be a good day," Cooper said. "He's really been battling and trying to figure things out. Mentally, he's a tough guy, but struggling through last night. ... Mentally, he's just not ready. I thought it would be good to get him a day off today, and it would give him two days. Hopefully, he'll be ready in Atlanta."
Still, it wasn't an easy decision for Cooper. Considering Berkman has hit .354 with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs in the six-year history of Great American Ball Park, Cooper had to weigh the consequences of sitting Berkman in the slugger's personal hitter's paradise.
"It's difficult, but you have to look at the big picture," Cooper said. "In this case, we both agreed it was the best thing to do. I don't like to do it at home, in front of the home crowd. I really don't like doing it in Cincinnati, because of what he's done here. But he really needs a break. If we have to shoot him out there in the seventh or eighth to pinch-hit, we can do that."
In Rodriguez's place, Cooper gave catcher J.R. Towles his first start of the season. Towles was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock on Saturday to replace backup catcher Humberto Quintero and took over for Rodriguez that same day when the Astros' starter was ejected. Towles went 1-for-3, and with Towles having caught Wednesday's starter Felipe Paulino at Round Rock, Cooper said it was a good opportunity to keep that continuity at the big league level.
Josh Katzowitz is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.