Blastoff: 10th Astro reaches 10-homer mark
Club record set on Conger's grand slam; Houston 1 shy of MLB record
HOUSTON -- The Astros' co-leader in home runs hit eighth Friday night, though infielder Luis Valbuena is in a logjam at first base and is unsure if he'll see his name in the lineup each day.
Pinch-hitting for Valbuena in the sixth inning of Friday's 8-0 win was Chris Carter, another competitor for first-base playing time, who has 18 homers himself. Batting in the nine-hole was catcher Hank Conger, whose fourth-inning grand slam gave him 10 home runs on the year, setting a franchise record as he became the 10th Astro to reach double-digit home runs this season.
"When you got guys down in the order hitting double-digit home runs that are part-time players, that's a pretty unique roster to have," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "You know clearly we've got power throughout and we've had guys come up through the Minor Leagues and hit for power, and it's a good achievement."
Conger, thrust into an everyday role while Jason Castro deals with a strained right quad on the disabled list, lifted Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey's 2-0 pitch to the opposite field, sneaking it into the Crawford Boxes for his second career grand slam and second of the season.
The 338-foot shot was more welcome for the Astros, though, because of what preceded it. Pelfrey surrendered three straight singles to start the inning before striking out Colby Rasmus and Valbuena to momentarily quiet a crowd of 27,807.
"He got those first two guys out with the bases loaded, so trying to get a momentum shift," Conger said. "He has a good two-seamer, so for me I was trying to look out over the plate and do some damage. ... I'm trying to be aggressive but at the same time I don't want to swing at a borderline pitch."
With 22 home runs, Evan Gattis is tied with Valbuena for the club lead this season. The other Astros with double-digit dingers are Rasmus (18), Carlos Correa (16), George Springer (13), Preston Tucker (12), Castro and Jose Altuve (both with 11).
Conger and Castro are the first pair of Astros catchers to have double-digit home runs in franchise history. With Marwin Gonzalez lingering at nine and Jake Marisnick with seven, the Astros stand poised to tie or break the 2004 Tigers' Major League record of 11 players with double-digit home runs.
Rasmus, who added No. 18 on Friday, said it's a testament to the clubhouse demeanor.
"[The] relaxed approach, which I think has helped us at times, and pulling for one another and playing as a team," Rasmus said, "I think that's what we do really well. Everyone's relaxed before the games, it's not real high intensity because when you get out in front of a big crowd and playing in games, it's going to come to you."