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Today: At St. Louis, 7:15 p.m.
Pitchers: Mike Hampton (0-0) vs. Joel Pineiro (0-0).
TV/radio: FSH; 740 AM and 1010 AM (Spanish).
After a sobering opening series against the Chicago Cubs renewed concerns about the back end of the Astros' rotation, Mike Hampton heads to Busch Stadium in St. Louis to answer questions of his own.
In his first start of the 2009 season, the lefthander hopes to put his injury troubles behind him. He also hopes to make more than 13 starts in a season for the first time since 2004 with Atlanta.
"I feel I'm prepared for everything," said Hampton, who will open the three-game series against Cardinals righthander Joel Pineiro tonight. "To me, this is the first start of many. I think in your first start, you tend to be a little more amped up than most.
"So I think the biggest key for me would be to go there and relax and settle in as soon as possible and get into a good rhythm and get into the flow of the game."
Hampton, 36, realizes the Astros need a solid season out of him to contend against the Cubs and Cardinals in the National League Central. He recognizes and welcomes the expectations.
"That's how it should be," Hampton said. "That's how I want it to be. I want them to feel that I'm going to be a big part of this rotation. And that's the way I look at it.
"We've got a good starting staff, and so far we've put up some good numbers (in the first two games), and guys have gone out there and done well. I just want to continue it. I look forward to Friday doing the same. I look forward to going out there and giving my team a chance with a quality start. I think the key is to try to rack up as many quality starts as you can. If I do that for this team, I think we're going to win."
Originally acquired by the Astros from the Seattle Mariners for Eric Anthony on Dec. 10, 1993, Hampton made 44 appearances out of the bullpen in 1994. He moved into the rotation in 1995, going 9-8 with a 3.35 ERA.
In his final season in Houston, he had a 22-4 record with a 2.90 ERA in 1999, leading the Astros to the NL Central title. That winter he was shipped off to the New York Mets, a team he led to the 2000 World Series after being the 2000 National League Championship Series MVP against the Cardinals.
Since going 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA in 2000, Hampton has had a pair of 14-victory seasons and one 13-victory season. But because of injuries, he has not made more than 13 starts in a season since he made 29 in 2004 for Atlanta.
The Astros hope Hampton can remain healthy and showcase the fortitude he had while making 255 starts between 1997 and 2004.
"Well, (Hampton is) definitely one of the keys to our season," manager Cecil Cooper said. "If we can have him take the ball on a regular basis and give us five, six, seven quality innings - I'd say probably three-quarters of his starts - if he could do that let's say 20-25 times or 20 times out of 32 we're going to be awfully good."
Hampton was 0-2 with a 4.80 ERA this spring, showing better command in his final starts.
"This spring he started out, and you could tell he was a little rusty," Cooper said. "He didn't have the command early. But as time progressed, you could see him getting much, much better. He started to hit his spots better. He started to keep the ball down better. He started to mix in his curveball. I've just seen a guy who's gotten better each time out. Particularly the last half of spring training, I thought he was pretty good for us."