HOUSTON -- Astros manager Cecil Cooper wants to keep veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez fresh for the hotter months later in the season and has been giving backup catcher Humberto Quintero more playing time in the past few weeks.

Quintero, who will start Sunday's series finale against the Pirates and once again catch starter Felipe Paulino, also recently began catching Mike Hampton when he starts. Quintero has caught Hampton's previous three starts, including two strong outings against the Pirates.

"My focus is keeping Pudge fresh," Cooper said. "He's not 25 anymore; he's 37. We have to make sure he's fresh in July and August, and Quintero has played so well we have that luxury of doing that."

The extra playing time has been paying off for Quintero, who's hitting .278 with six RBIs. He came into the season as a career .230 hitter in parts of four seasons with the Astros and two with the Padres.

"I feel a lot better," Quintero said. "I've been working with [third-base coach Dave] Clark when [hitting coach] Sean Berry was out, and [Miguel] Tejada told me about a heavy bat and I use it in the cage and on the field for batting practice and try to hit the other way."

Clark said the point of the heavy bat is to force players to use their hands more and hit the ball to the opposite field. Quintero did just that in Friday's 9-1 win over Pittsburgh, going the other way and hitting his first career triple to right field, driving in two runs in the process.

"I feel more comfortable and am getting more playing time," said Quintero, whom the Astros acquired from the Padres in exchange for Tim Redding on March 28, 2005.

Quintero, 29, has yet to spend a full season in the Majors, but he's hoping to this season. A native of Venezuela, he came into 2009 having played 812 Minor League games and 152 Major League games.

He's spent most of his career with the Astros backing up Brad Ausmus and later J.R. Towles before the club acquired Rodriguez in the spring.

"I've always gotten hurt or something happen in the last couple of years [that caused him to spend time in the Minors]," Quintero said. "I had appendicitis [in 2005] or they have sent me down for other reasons. But I'm always working harder and know someday I'm going to have an opportunity to play everyday."

Pitching matchup
HOU: RHP Felipe Paulino (1-4, 6.21 ERA)
Paulino justified his spot in the starting rotation, at least for the time being, by holding the Rockies to five hits and two runs and striking out a career-high seven batters in six innings in his previous start Tuesday. Despite giving the Astros their fourth quality start in five games, Paulino took a no-decision. The Astros have scored just 12 runs in his seven starts. Paulino's only career outing against the Pirates came in 2007 when he threw one inning in relief.

PIT: RHP Ian Snell (1-6, 5.64 ERA)
Snell's struggles continued in his last start, when he gave up five runs in six innings while tying a season high with five walks. All of the runs came before the fourth inning, however, as he rebounded in the last three frames to take a no-decision. Despite the turnaround, Snell remained winless in his past eight outings. Since pitching seven shutout innings on April 18, Snell has given up 29 runs in 42 innings. He is 2-5 in 13 career appearances against the Astros, including 12 starts. He has yet to face Houston this season.

Tidbits
Edwin Maysonet has started 11 consecutive games at second base and has hit safely in eight of those games. ... Left fielder Carlos Lee is the only Astros player to start in all 54 games this season. ... Right fielder Hunter Pence homered and tripled in his first two at-bats Saturday to give him 22 multi-hit games for the season.

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Up next
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Astros (Brian Moehler, 2-3, 6.37) vs. Cubs (Ted Lilly, 6-4, 3.28), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 5-5, 2.97) vs. Cubs (Carlos Zambrano, 4-2, 3.72), 7:05 p.m. CT