Astros want more from offense in second half

HOUSTON In his first coaching job, the former first baseman inherits a team whose hitters rank among the bottom in the league in almost every statistical category. And even stars Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are mired in slumps.

Berkman, a career .297 hitter, and Lee, who's hit .289 in his career, are averaging .255 and .240 respectively. Lee's slump has been particularly tough on the team after he hit at least .300 in each of the past three seasons.

The team's poor hitting has left the Astros at 36-53 as they prepare for the second half of the season.

"It's been disappointing obviously, extremely disappointing," general manager Ed Wade said. "We really have never reached the point of consistency that we wanted to achieve. Coming out of spring training we thought we had the elements in place to get off to a good start and it didn't happen."

Although Berkman and Lee, who are both 34, are far from the only Astros with problems on offense, their success in the past has magnified their trouble.

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that we would have struggled collectively offensively as much as we have," Wade said. "All you have to do is flip the guy's bubble gum card over and look at the numbers on the back and see what the track record is to recognize why our expectations were higher. And it's not higher expectations for guys who are 37 and 38 years old, it's higher expectations for guys who have a lot left in the tank and still have something to prove this season."

Houston isn't expecting miracles from Bagwell, but Wade wants to see if the change can help his players get back on track.

"We need to figure out whether guys actually have the ability to get better or not," Wade said. "We've got players who are underperforming. We know we're not the '27 Yankees, but we're better than this. And if we're not better than this, we need to use time remaining to assess the talent on the club and act accordingly."

Bagwell spent 15 seasons with the team and set franchise records with 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. The Astros are hoping his outstanding career will translate into success in his new position and help the team salvage something from this season.

"We're going to work on some technical aspects of hitting, but once the game starts we're going to compete," he said. "That's really all I can ask of the guys. We'll run hard, run the bases well and we're going to compete. That's going to be my message."

He thinks that his final season when he was the pinch hitter helped prepare him for a job like this.

"I have such an appreciation for every single person on the club now and what they have to go through to prepare," he said. "As a pinch hitter you have one at-bat to figure (everything) out. That's difficult. So I know the importance of what those guys need every single day."

Bagwell, who has worked as a special assistant to Wade since his retirement in 2006, said he's already got a few pointers for his hitters after watching them in the first half of the season. He went right to work after his hiring last weekend, chatting up Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence and exchanging telephone numbers with the young players.

Pence, who is hitting .263 this season, is looking forward to soaking up the information he believes Bagwell will bring to the team.

"I think he's definitely got a great amount of knowledge, obviously with the credentials that he's got and how well he's played and he definitely understands hitting," he said.

The rest of the season is a sort of tryout for Bagwell. He hasn't been guaranteed anything past the end of this year as the Astros see what he can do and he finds out if he likes coaching.

Along with helping the veterans get out of their slumps, Bagwell should aid Houston's young players as team officials gauge their development. Rookie catcher Jason Castro, who was called up from the minors less than a month ago, has impressed on defense but needs more work on offense.

Houston wants to see what fellow rookies Jason Bourgeois, an outfielder, and Chris Johnson, who plays third base, can contribute this season.

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