Notes: Lamb a luxury either way
Pinch-hitter can also hold his own in lefty-lefty situations
ST. LOUIS -- When Mike Lamb enters the game as a pinch-hitter, opposing managers will often bring in their left-handed specialist to face him.
The lefty-lefty matchup is supposed to favor the pitcher, but that's hardly the case when Lamb's at the plate. He's 3-for-6 against left-handers this year, and in his career, he has 87 hits in 336 at-bats versus lefties for a .259 average.
For manager Phil Garner, being able to use Lamb in critical pinch-hit situations without having to worry about who's pitching is a luxury.
"If there's a right-hander on the mound who they may leave in or if they might bring in a left-hander, that's the guy I use," Garner said after Lamb knocked a crucial pinch-hit single off Reds lefty Mike Stanton on Thursday. "He's a good hitter and it doesn't matter what side they're throwing from."
Lamb was drafted in 1997 as a switch-hitting catcher, but as soon as he signed, he was told he was going to bat left-handed only and play third base.
"I was catching in college and had a broken bone in my right hand, and it hurt to hit right-handed, so I said, 'OK, that's fine,'" Lamb recalled. "My first year, with two, three days left to go in Spring Training, [my manager] said, 'Go ahead, give [hitting right-handed] a try.' Six weeks into the season, I was hitting .260 and they said, 'OK, that's enough.' I hit left-handed the rest of the time."
Lamb never wanted to give his manager a reason to take him out of a game just because a lefty was coming in to pitch, so he worked extra hard to make sure he could hold his own in lefty-lefty situations.
"I've always taken it as a challenge to prove that I can," he said. "From the time I was 11 years old to the time I was 21, I'd never seen a breaking ball break away like the slider from a lefty does against a left-handed batter. I'd always hit right-handed and they'd break into me. That was an adjustment that I had to make that wasn't fun. It worked out."
Leading off, finally: Morgan Ensberg thought it was "awesome" that he was slotted into the leadoff spot for Saturday's game, mainly because he hasn't led off a baseball game since he was 12 or 13 years old.
"It almost completes my tour of the lineup," he said. "I've batted everywhere except for ninth."
Ensberg, who normally hits fifth, was hitting leadoff temporarily. Craig Biggio, who received a routine day off Saturday, will likely be back in that spot on Sunday.
Ensberg joked that "there is a lot of weight in the leadoff role today -- both on our side and on [the Cardinals] side."
Ensberg was referring to right fielder Scott Spiezio, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound right fielder, who led off for the Cardinals. It was his first time in the leadoff spot in nearly 10 years.
"I think I've got height, weight and reach on Spiezio," Ensberg said. "I'm probably coming in at about 223 [pounds], versus Spiezio's 212 -- my guess. I'm guessing that I also have a lot of reach, because I have long arms. I think I'm taller than him."
While leadoff hitters are often described as "scrappy," Ensberg had a new word to describe Saturday's leadoff men.
"They'll be 'lumbering' today," he said.
Lineup talk: Twenty-nine games into the season, it's becoming increasingly harder to ignore Mark Loretta's sterling .392 average, or the fact that he's putting up these numbers as a part-time player.
Following the Astros' very convincing 13-0 win over the Cardinals on Saturday, Garner was asked if he is tempted to try to play the super-utility veteran a little more.
Garner has no issue with that part of the equation. The problem is, it's easier said than done.
"That's what we've been trying to do," he said. "Let's face it, he had another four-hit day and that's good. Morgan was on base four times today, too. The only other place to start him is at first base and you're not starting him over Lance [Berkman], no matter what Lance does. That's the right thing to do.
"The only other thing to do is try to mix him in at third base, which we've done a couple of times -- at least once."
Loretta's strongest position is second base, currently occupied by Biggio, who is 41 hits shy of 3,000.
"Biggio's going to play second, Garner said. "We'll try [Loretta] at short every now and then. It is tempting with the bat, but we have an exceptional glove man out there at short, who really does a lot for our team defensively."
Remembering Bluffton: On Monday, the Astros and Reds will honor the surviving members of the Bluffton University baseball team at Great American Ball Park with a meet-and-greet before the start of the series opener.
The team was marred by tragedy on March 2 when its bus, traveling to a tournament in Sarasota, Fla., crashed in Georgia and killed five players, plus the bus driver and his wife.
The Astros and Reds invited 38 Bluffton University baseball players and coaches to watch both teams take batting practice, and they will also be introduced during a pregame ceremony, which will include a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives in the accident.
The team will stay to watch the game, thanks to the Reds, who are providing complimentary tickets and $5 of "ballpark cash" for concessions.
The idea came from Astros reliever Dave Borkowski and his wife, Jill, who live year-round in Toledo, Ohio, just 45 minutes north of Bluffton University. They wanted to do something for the baseball team and asked the Reds, the closest National League team to Bluffton, to join in.
"The Reds jumped on board right away and together we organized what I hope will be a very special day," Jill Borkowski said.
Coming up: The Astros and Cardinals wrap up the three-game set Sunday afternoon, beginning at 1:15 p.m. CT. Right-hander Chris Sampson (3-1, 3.55), who was away from the team for two days with sinusitis, will rejoin the club and start the finale with the Cardinals. The Astros will face right-hander Braden Looper (3-2, 2.84).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.