Astros-Padres Preview

Hunter Pence was key to the Houston Astros’ first road series
sweep of 2011. They’ll need him to continue swinging a hot bat for
any chance of ending a skid at Petco Park.

Pence and the Astros continue their seven-game swing Thursday
night with the first of four meetings against the San Diego

Houston capped its first road sweep since Aug. 23-26 with a 3-1
win over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday.

“We’ve been playing pretty good baseball lately. Throughout this
series, everything has been going our way,” said Michael Bourn,
whose two-run single in the seventh inning snapped a 1-all tie.

Pence was 7 for 13 with two homers and five RBIs in the three
games, extending a nearly two-week tear. Pence is batting .436 with
three homers – all on the road – and 12 RBIs in a 13-game hitting
streak that’s boosted his average nearly 40 points to .317.

But Pence hasn’t had much success at the Padres’ cavernous
stadium, where he’s batting .176 in 11 games. Also, Pence’s .250
career average versus San Diego is his second-lowest among NL

In April, Pence was 4 for 14 as Astros (22-34) and Padres split
four games in Houston.

They’ll look for a lift from Pence after totaling two runs while
losing the final three games of a four-game set last July in San

Houston will face Tim Stauffer (1-3, 3.60 ERA) as he tries to
build off his first win of the year. The right-hander yielded a run
and four hits over seven innings Saturday in San Diego’s 2-1
victory at Washington.

“I look more at how the team does in my starts. Sometimes you’re
not going to win when you pitch well and sometimes you’re going to
win when you don’t pitch well,” said Stauffer, whose team is 6-5
when he takes the mound.

Stauffer has no record with a 7.27 ERA in two career starts
against the Astros. This will be his first appearance against them
in San Diego.

The Padres (24-32) closed a six-game road trip Wednesday with a
4-3 loss to Atlanta that snapped a season-high four-game winning
streak. Kyle Phillips hit a two-run homer and Jorge Cantu added a
sacrifice fly, but six of the final eight Padres struck out.

San Diego now opens an 11-game run at Petco, where it’s an
NL-worst 9-20 while scoring just 65 runs.

Houston’s Bud Norris (2-4, 3.76) will put a 13-inning scoreless
streak against the Padres on the line.

The right-hander allowed two hits in six innings of a 1-0 win
over San Diego on April 14. On July 3 at Petco, Norris scattered
three hits over seven innings, but the Astros fell 1-0.

After fanning a season-high 11 in a shutout win over Milwaukee
on May 1, Norris is 0-3 with a 4.60 ERA in five starts. He
surrendered six runs – two earned – and seven hits in five innings
of an 11-3 loss to Arizona on Saturday.

San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick went 0 for 4 Wednesday, and 10 for 24
on the trip. He’s batting .194 at home this year despite leading
the club with four homers and 13 RBIs at Petco.