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Notes: Bright side to rough start

Notes: Bright side to rough start

HOUSTON -- If there's one good thing the Houston Astros can take from their tough start to the 2005 season, it's the idea that perhaps their worst days are behind them.

Several players admitted through April and May that they were pressing too much, and it was clearly costing them. The Astros have been as many as 15 games below .500, and their deficit in the National League Central standings has been in double digits since May 12.

But entering Saturday's game, the Astros had won six of their last 10 and nine of their last 14, partly due to their offense showing some life after being pretty much non-existent for much of the first two months.

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Jason Lane, for example, had a terrible May, hitting .118 with one homer and four RBIs. But in the first six games in June he matched his hit total from May with eight, to contribute to a .381 average (8-for-21) with two homers and six RBIs.

Lane is the first to admit he was trying too hard early in the season and it was hurting his approach at the plate. As a result, his playing time became more sporadic starting in the middle of May.

"I was really pressing for a while, with me going bad and the team going bad," he said. "I started pressing and I kind of got out of my rhythm, got out of myself, really. I watched a lot of film and just went back to some basics that I was doing early in the season. Not trying too hard is a big part of it.

"When you're not playing, you get frustrated and you say, 'Let's go. Either get it done or you're going to be on the bench the whole time,'" he said. "That's not fun."

Staring the season 19-32 wasn't fun for anyone, but perhaps hitting rock bottom was what the team needed just to be able to relax a bit.

"Maybe things got so bad that we just quit pressing," Lane said. "It took a little bit of pressure off us. Maybe it got so bad that there wasn't a whole lot of pressure on us and we started doing the little things and just playing baseball."

First for Wandy: Wandy Rodriguez logged his first career RBI on Friday during his start against the Blue Jays, singling to right field in the second inning to score Adam Everett from second.

As glad as he was to help the team to a 4-2 win, he wasn't giving himself any extra points for technical merit.

"It felt really good, but did you see that swing?" he said. "It was pretty ugly. I was very late on that and stayed back. Fortunately, it worked out, so I guess I got out of that one."

Astros sign 14: The Astros wasted no time following the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, which was held over a two-day span earlier this week.

The club signed 14 draftees, including their second-round pick, catcher Ralph Henriquez from Key West High School in Key West, Fla.

Along with Henriquez, other players agreeing to terms include shortstop Timothy Johnson (seventh round), outfielder Allen Langdon (10th), left-hander Cory Lapinski (11th), right-hander Thomas Fairchild (12th), right-hander Eric Sheridan (15th), catcher Andrew Kroeker (17th), right-hander Drew Himes (19th), third baseman Michael Thompson (26th), right-hander James Gant (29th), right-hander Matthew Hirsch (30th), first baseman Cole Graham (32nd), left fielder Nathan Warrick (34th), outfielder Matthew Cunningham (36th) and right-hander Brandon Stricklen (42nd).

A wide-eyed Henriquez visited the Astros clubhouse on Saturday, and underwent a physical before emerging to the field to take a round of batting practice. His proud mother, Dee Dee, snapped several pictures of the 18-year-old Henriquez, son of Braves roving catching instructor Ralph Henriquez.

"I was nervous," Henriquez said. "Even during the first two rounds [of batting practice]. I finally loosened up in the end."

Koby Clemens, the Astros' eighth-round pick, also took batting practice. He has yet to decide between signing with the Astros or going to the University of Texas, with whom he signed a letter of intent last November.

Taveras recovered: If manager Phil Garner had any doubts regarding whether Willy Taveras was ready to return to the field on Friday after missing three games with a strained left hamstring, the center fielder erased them when he knocked his first career leadoff homer, off Blue Jays lefty Ted Lilly.

Taveras felt confident he could have played the final game in New York on Thursday, but he sat out as a precautionary measure. He took it easy on the basepaths on Friday and said he'll do the same for a few games until he's confident he can steal without any setbacks from the hamstring strain.

"I'm sure I'll be fine," he said. "I'm just going to be careful."

Odds and ends: Saturday wasn't so great for the Astros' first-round pick, Brian Bogesevic. The Tulane left-hander allowed seven runs on 12 hits over four innings in his start against the Rice Owls, who won the Super Regional opener, 9-5. ... Jimmy Wynn's uniform No. 24 will be retired prior to the Astros-Rangers game on Saturday, June 25. ... Craig Biggio has been hit by pitches 262 times in his career, the second-most in Major League history. He needs six more to pass Don Baylor for the record. "The Hall of Fame told us, if and when it happens, they want my arm pad," Biggio said.

Coming up: The three-game series with the Blue Jays concludes Sunday at 1:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Roy Oswalt (6-7, 3.13 ERA) will face Toronto right-hander Josh Towers (5-4, 4.61). The Astros will depart after the game for Baltimore, where they open a three-game set with the Orioles on Monday. The series will mark the Astros' first trip to Camden Yards.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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