HOUSTON — Astros manager Brad Mills made it known prior to Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park that he continues to be impressed with the consistency of utility infielder Matt Downs over the course of this season.
Downs is hitting .282 with five home runs, 19 RBI and eight doubles while posting a .387 on-base percentage over 78 at-bats in 50 games.
He blasted a game-winning, pinch-hit homer off closer Neftali Feliz as part of a four-run rally in the ninth last Wednesday to lift Houston to a 5-3 victory over Texas at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Although Downs didn’t see any action in Friday night’s opener versus the Rays, Mills penciled him into the No. 5 spot in the lineup at shortstop for Saturday’s game in order to get his bat behind Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, as well as give Clint Barmes a day off.
Downs possesses minimal game experience at the position.
“He has taken grounders every day,” Mills said. “We got him some work at shortstop in Spring Training during drill work, plus he did play one or two games there. That’s really about it”
At this point, Mills gave the impression that he’s going to find ways to keep Downs’ bat in the lineup, whether that means shifting him around the infield as a means of giving others a day off, or simply looking for key matchups against opposing pitchers.
Furthermore, the Astros’ skipper stated that his decision to keep Barmes out of the starting lineup for Saturday night isn’t anything more than giving the veteran a breather due to him starting all six games on the team’s recent road trip in Los Angeles and Texas.
Barmes continues to struggle at the plate this season, as the 32-year-old shortstop is hitting .211 with three homers and 11 RBI.
“When a guy is swinging the bat well, you want to try to find a position for him to help you out,” Mills said. “We thought that tonight would be the day to do that at shortstop. Again, we’re trying to find a place to fit Downs in. He is swinging the bat well.
“It’s nothing against Barmes. It’s just a situation where we’re trying to get Downs some at-bats. With Kepp [Jeff Keppinger] swinging the bat so well and C.J. [Chris Johnson] having that good series in L.A., you would hate to take them out right now.
“I just thought tonight was a good matchup for all of them.”
For the latest Astros news, click on the Subscribe button at the top of the page. Also, be sure to follow Houston Astros Examiner Stephen Goff on Facebook and Twitter, or email [email protected]