Pence named NL Rookie of the Month
Outfielder bats .343 with 19 RBIs and 16 extra-base hits in May
When the Astros called up then-prized prospect Hunter Pence on April 28, many fans were concerned if the team was rushing the gem of the club's farm system. After all, he didn't even have a month to face Triple-A pitching.
Turns out he didn't need it.
Houston said it called up Pence to provide a spark for a struggling offense, and he's certainly done that, receiving praise from his teammates as well as standing ovations from fans at Minute Maid Park for his infectious enthusiasm all over the field. But in addition, he's become arguably the best hitter on a team with stars such as Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman.
Since his call-up, the rookie is hitting a league-best .375 with five home runs, 11 doubles and three triples and an incredible on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.028. He's also proved to be a superb defensive center fielder even in spacious Minute Maid Park, robbing Albert Pujols with two running catches on Tal's Hill this past Sunday.
In May, he was one of the only positives keeping the Astros from a complete disaster. Although the team went 12-16 in the month, with a 10-game losing streak, Pence hit .343 with 16 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs, providing life to an offense with sluggers such as Berkman, Morgan Ensberg and Luke Scott all struggling badly.
For that production, Pence was the clear choice for NL Rookie of the Month in May.
"We kept saying he's not the savior," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We just want him to go out and play, and that's what he's been doing. He's in a good hitting groove. He swings the bat, sees the ball and takes a good rip. His bat stays in the zone well and that's a good thing."
When Pence makes any contact with the ball, he immediately goes into an all-out sprint to first base with the hustle of a young kid. When he, or any Astros hitter has success, he's typically the first to clap his hands, pump his fist and yell encouragement. In barely more than a month, he's captivated crowds in Houston and immediately become a fan favorite.
For a franchise known for a business-like atmosphere, his enthusiasm -- in addition to his productivity -- has been a noticeable and welcome change.
"[His energy] definitely rubs off," Houston reliever Brad Lidge said of Pence. "It's hard to explain exactly how, but there's no doubt about it. He has so much energy -- sometimes it borders on out of control -- and it's a lot of fun for us to watch. Certainly some of the veterans can get tired as the season goes on, but every night he's something to watch."
His productivity runs even deeper than the numbers show. Pence has looked the part of a veteran hitter even in clutch situations, blasting two late-inning home runs to tie games in the last three weeks and receiving curtain calls on both occasions. For the rookie, his dream is becoming reality.
"I feel like I'm one of the luckiest men in the world just to be here," Pence said. "For the fans to support me the way they do, it makes me so happy. It's been a dream come true and very exciting. It's been incredible."
Other National League rookies receiving votes included Arizona's Mark Reynolds (.426, 4 HR, 15 RBI); San Diego's Justin Germano (3-0, 1.08 ERA, 9 SO) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (.303, 3 HR, 18 RBI); Troy Tulowitzki (.303, 6 2B, 12 RBI) of the Rockies; and Tim Lincecum (2-0, 3.24 ERA, 33 SO) of the Giants.
Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.