Hinch sticking with hot hand at first base

Hinch sticking with hot hand at first base

ARLINGTON -- The Astros are using a three-man rotation at first base, a position that was locked down by Chris Carter for the first half of the season. But his yearlong struggles on offense and the return of third baseman Jed Lowrie -- which pushes Luis Valbuena to first base on occasion -- has meant less playing time, and he has started at first just once in the past week.

Carter, who started 74 of the season's first 80 games at first, is still getting the occasional assignment, as well as some starts as designated hitter, but manager A.J. Hinch has been going with the hot hand, which means a rotation of Carter, Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez.

"I try to go with the best matchup that we can offensively," Hinch said. "We've been searching for consistent offensive output. Clearly, defense is important. We've got a couple of different options that have played well defensively there. But right now it's coming down to who gives us the best chance to put up some offensive numbers. "

Entering Tuesday, Carter was hitting .181 with 17 homers and 47 RBIs. The Astros had been waiting for him to catch fire the way he did last season, when he hit .296 with 23 homers and 55 RBIs during a torrid 52-game stretch from early July through early September, but it hasn't happened.

"I'm trying to ride the hot hand and trying to push the right buttons to put guys in position to have favorable offensive matchups," Hinch said. "[Jon] Singleton's not here anymore, which thins out the options a little bit."

• Hinch said that rookie right-hander Lance McCullers will head to Double-A Corpus Christi, where he began the season, to work with pitching coach Doug Brocail. The Astros are trying to get him some rest. He has to stay there at least 10 days (barring an injury), but Hinch said it could be a couple of weeks.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.