Since this was Game 1 of a mid-August series against the fourth-place Brewers, manager Phil Garner was glad to insert Chris Burke at second base and give Biggio the night off. Orlando Palmeiro started in left field.
Power shortage: It takes an entire team to lose a string of ballgames, but it's probably not a coincidence that Lance Berkman's recent struggles at the plate coincided with the Astros' lackluster performances against the Pirates and Cubs.
"We wouldn't win all these games if Berkman was hitting the ball, but it has something to do with it," Garner said, noting that Berkman and Biggio have tailed off this month. "That means you can get around [Morgan] Ensberg. Anytime some guys are slumping, you can get around them and not get hurt, and you end up with some low-scoring games."
Entering Thursday's game, Berkman, the No. 3 hitter, was batting .184 (9-for-49) in August. No. 2 man Biggio is hitting .250 this month (14-for-56).
Berkman hit .308 in June and .362 in July, giving Garner hope that the outfielder/first baseman was back to normal after making a slow start coming off the disabled list in early May.
"I would have thought Berkman was out of the woods and would not go back in it," Garner said. "I'm disappointed he's struggled in the past 10 days or so."
Backe update: Brandon Backe threw long toss on Thursday and hopes to be back on the mound to throw a bullpen session in three or four days. Ideally, he'd like to rejoin the rotation soon after the club returns from its week-long jaunt to Southern California.
"I'm feeling more comfortable throwing," he said. "Yesterday and today, I haven't felt anything throwing. I'll just continue to take it little by little each day to see if I can build up to finally letting it go."
Backe has been on the DL since late July with a strained intercostal (abdomen) muscle.
Tough times in KC: Garner has experienced more good times than bad since becoming the Astros' manager last year, but life wasn't so great during the trying times -- of which there were many -- when he skippered the Brewers and Tigers from 1992-2002.
In that respect, Garner feels for Buddy Bell, whose Kansas City Royals club is drowning in an 18-game losing streak.
"When you go into an organization that's been losing and you try to change the culture, it's a difficult job," Garner said. "It requires absolute faith from ownership. You've got to do some things on the field with your personnel that people don't like. But you've got to do it if you're going to turn it around."
Scholarship winners: Minute Maid and the Astros announced on Thursday that Jameson Lewis and Roxanne Barron have been selected as the first-ever recipients of the Grand Slam for Youth Baseball Scholarship. Each student will receive a $2,500 scholarship to attend the college of his or her choice.
Lewis and Barron were the special guests of Minute Maid and the Astros during the series opener with the Brewers, complete with a VIP on-field viewing of batting practice, a special pregame ceremony, tickets to the game for them and their family, and the chance to meet Backe, the official spokesperson for Grand Slam for Youth Baseball.
Lewis, a graduate of Galveston Ball High School, will attend Texas Southern University, where he plans to study engineering. Barron, a product of Barbara Jordan High School in Houston, will attend Grambling University and study business management.
Coming up: Right-hander Ezequiel Astacio (2-6, 6.66 ERA) will face Brewers left-hander Doug Davis (9-8, 4.20 ERA) during Game 2 of the four-game set on Friday, beginning at 7:05 p.m. CT.