HOUSTON -- Hunter Pence never wants a day off, no matter how he feels.
Being forced into one on Sunday by manager Brad Mills may have been just what Houston's star right fielder needed to put his back trouble behind him.Pence returned from the day off to homer and drive in four runs -- extending his career-best hitting streak to 23 games -- as the Astros snapped a four-game skid with an 8-3 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.Pence missed his first game this season on Sunday while dealing with tightness in his lower back. He said before the game that he felt great and then quickly showed it by hitting a two-run homer off Derek Lowe (3-5) in the third inning.He said a meeting players had on Sunday night was helpful in getting the team, which has the worst record in the National League, going in a better direction."To come out after we have a good talk with everyone talking baseball -- just to play good like we did today, hopefully it's something we can build on," Pence said. "This is what we need more of. We need to show the capabilities that these guys have and we need to start growing."He finished with three hits, including a two-run single in Houston's five-run sixth inning, and is batting .325 with 50 RBIs. Pence's hitting streak is the longest active streak in the majors.Wandy Rodriguez (4-3) allowed two hits in six scoreless innings for the win in his return from the disabled list. He said he didn't feel very good in the first inning, but that he felt better after that."He didn't let innings build," Mills said. "Guys got on base and got in scoring position, but he didn't let innings get away from him."Wilton Lopez and Sergio Escalona each pitched a scoreless inning.Brandon Lyon allowed a three-run homer to Jordan Schafer with two outs in the ninth, but retired Dan Uggla to end the game. He has allowed a homer in each of his three appearances since coming off the disabled list. The Astros believe that he is healthy and are trying to figure out why he's struggling."We're going to check everything out and see how he is tomorrow and how he was tonight and go from there," Mills said.Lowe yielded eight hits, five runs and three walks in 5 1/3 innings as Atlanta snapped a season-high six-game winning streak.Lowe was unavailable for comment after leaving the clubhouse before reporters were allowed inside.Brett Wallace had a pair of doubles and walked twice as the Astros won for just the second time in 10 games.Clint Barmes singled before Pence's shot to right field put Houston ahead 2-0 in the third inning. Jeff Keppinger singled in the sixth and scored on a double by Wallace to make it 3-0. A single by J.R. Towles with one out chased Lowe, who was replaced by Scott Linebrink.A double to left field by pinch hitter Matt Downs scored Wallace before Linebrink intentionally walked Michael Bourn to load the bases. Towles scored on a sacrifice fly by Barmes to extend the lead to 5-0 before Pence's sharp grounder scored Downs and Bourn, and made it 7-0.Wallace doubled before a single by Chris Johnson in the seventh inning. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Towles to put Houston up 8-0.Schafer doubled to leadoff the first before Rodriguez walked Uggla. Freddie Freeman walked with two outs to load the bases, but Rodriguez escaped the jam by striking out Joe Mather.Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has been impressed with Schafer since he was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on May 24."He's a nice little player," Gonzalez said. "He ran down a couple balls in the gaps. He has that speed game. He also hit a ball out of the ballpark. He's making a nice little show for himself here."Rodriguez retired the next five batters after Mather before plunking Brian McCann with two outs in the third inning. He walked Chipper Jones but escaped unscathed again when he struck out Freeman."I thought Wandy was pretty good," Gonzalez said. "He got out of those jams early on, and we couldn't get anything going."He threw a 1-2-3 fourth before a double by Lowe to start the fifth inning. But Rodriguez retired the next three to leave Lowe stranded.Rodriguez walked Jones in the sixth, but faced the minimum after the Astros turned a double play.Bourn, who leads the majors with 27 stolen bases, swiped the 200th of his career in the fifth inning.
Atlanta OF Jason Heyward (right shoulder) began a rehabilitation assignment with Gwinnett on Monday. Gonzalez said he expects him to play two or three games before he is activated from the disabled list. ... An MRI performed Monday on the sprained right ankle of Houston OF Jason Bourgeois didn't show any damage and he entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch runner.
21,466 (51% full) - % is based on regular season capacity
Home Plate - Bruce Dreckman, First Base - David Rackley, Second Base - Rob Drake, Third Base - Gary Darling
Hunter Pence extended his hit streak to 23 games with a two-run home run against the Braves on Monday.
It's tied with Moises Alou in 2001 for the fourth-longest hit streak by an Astros player since 2000.