HOUSTON -- Angels outfielder J.B. Shuck is settling in at the leadoff spot, and it's just in time to face his former team.
Shuck was in the leadoff spot for the fourth straight game in Friday's opener vs. the Astros, as Peter Bourjos continued to nurse a thumb injury.
Shuck has been nothing short of stellar at the top of the lineup, proving a key cog during Los Angeles' three-game sweep of Detroit.
In that series, Shuck went 6-for-14, scoring at least one run in all three games and driving in four runs during the Angels' 14-8 slugfest victory on Tuesday.
"I feel good, since I just tell myself it's the same kind of situation whether it's leadoff or nine-hole," he said. "I try not to think about it, really."
Shuck might not be thinking about it, but manager Mike Scioscia is eyeing his approach intently. He hasn't found anything to dislike so far.
"J.B.'s playing terrific baseball for us," Scioscia said. "Even when he's not getting on, he's seeing a lot of pitches. He's setting the table for the top of our order, and he's been a real spark plug for us. Hopefully, he'll keep taking advantage of this situation."
The new role isn't out of line with Shuck's season as a whole. He entered Friday hitting .327 in June while starting 14 games, scoring 12 runs and driving in nine. In 30 at-bats in the leadoff spot, he was hitting a cool .333 with seven RBIs.
Shuck, who played in 37 games with Houston in 2011 during his Major League debut, has been the Angels' chameleon this season. He's started one game at designated hitter, pinch-ran twice, played 48 games at two different outfield spots and pinch-hit seven times. He's had at least one at-bat in every spot in the order except for the three-hole.
"I didn't really expect to have this kind of impact so quick," he said. "I knew my role was as the guy coming in off the bench. In the same sense, you have to be ready to step in when injuries do happen. I'm just holding down the fort right now."
Nursing sore thumb, Bourjos scores go-ahead run
HOUSTON -- Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos took batting practice and swung in the cages before Friday's game, but manager Mike Scioscia said Bourjos remained "day to day" while nursing a sore left thumb.
The opener vs. the Astros marked Bourjos' fourth consecutive game out of the lineup, but he pinch-ran in the eighth inning and scored the go-ahead run in the Angels' 4-2 win.
Bourjos had expressed hope of returning full-time for the final game of the recently-finished Detroit series, but the swelling hadn't died down.
Bourjos gripped the bat and swung freely Friday for the first time since the injury, which he suffered on Sunday against Pittsburgh sliding into second base to break up a double play.
"We felt good enough to finally get him back on the field, warming up fully today," Scioscia said earlier Friday. "It's been slow for him. We're waiting to see what happens."
Bourjos showed off his black protective brace in the dugout before the game. The brace contoured softly around his thumb, which is still visibly bruised and appears slightly out of place on the hand.
J.B. Shuck got a fourth straight start at the top of the lineup with Bourjos on the bench, but Shuck said he wasn't happy about the increased playing time given the circumstances.
"You never want to see a guy hurt, especially a guy like Pete," Shuck said. "He's been swinging the bat really well. He's an outstanding defensive player and a guy who can help the team. We need him back."
Astros have been thorn in Angels' side
HOUSTON -- Only one team has been less than happy to see the Astros during the club's first season in the American League West.
It's a distinction the Angels would rather not have. Los Angeles was 3-7 against Houston entering Friday's game, which included a four-game sweep in Anaheim a month ago.
That's baseball, and teams get hot at certain times, but it's damaged the Angels' place in the standings considerably. Especially since Houston is 6-18 against the rest of the division.
"They've beaten us up," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
J.B. Shuck said players are usually aware of their history against a team, but they're trying to keep that far from their minds this series.
"You just don't think about it, focus on it at all," he said. "Teams change, and the games are always different."
Injured pitcher Tommy Hanson said the team's recent sweep in Detroit should make that process a lot easier.
"This team's looking forward, not backwards," Hanson said. "We're coming off a great series against one of the best teams in the American League. They've played well against us, but we'll be tougher."
Then again, that refrain could have been repeated before the last time the two teams faced off. Los Angeles had won 10 of 12 and appeared to be on its way back to the .500 plateau before Houston held the Angels to eight runs in the four-game set.
Scioscia said he's not sticking with the same managing style against the Astros this time around, but he admitted it's all a normal part of the managerial process.
"You're always changing as you gather information on matchups. Now that we've played these guys in the past -- 10 times now -- there's obviously adjustments we're trying out this series," he said.
"But what it comes down to, it doesn't matter who you're playing or where you're playing, but how you're playing. We haven't played well against them, and they've taken it to us. We need to play consistent baseball, as we did this week in Detroit, if we're going to change anything."
Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.