- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

KISSIMMEE, FLA. (AP) - The Houston Astros hit 108 home runs last year, the fewest in the NL and ahead of only the Seattle Mariners’ 101.

Houston’s on-base percentage (.303) and slugging average (.362) also were 29th, better only than Seattle’s statistics. The Astros’ 611 runs were 28th, topping only the totals of Pittsburgh and the Mariners. And Houston was last with 415 walks.

General manager Ed Wade says taking more walks would be a good way to start an offensive turnaround, and the point is being emphasized during spring training.

“It’s very important,” said Mike Barnett, Houston’s new hitting coach. “But how you go about it is the key. It’s not just a matter of taking pitches. To me, walks and on-base percentage are more a product of understanding your approach, what your strengths are. If you can do that, then hopefully you’ll start to see your walk numbers go up.”

Nobody is trying harder than leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who walked 59 times last year.

“I feel like I won if I walk,” Bourn said, “but that’s part of what I have to do, is get on base, and I do that any way possible _ bunting, hitting, walking. I’ve got to be able to do it, so walking is a plus for me.”

Houston gave up 133 more walks than it received. The problem wasn’t at the pitching end.

Despite playing in only 85 games before being traded, Lance Berkman led Houston hitters last year with 60 walks.

Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, combined for 88 walks _ fewer than the totals of 10 major leaguer. Rookie regulars Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson walked less than once every six games, and Wallace was hit almost as many times (seven) as he walked (eight).

Inexperience was a factor, according to general manager Ed Wade.

“We had a lot of quick at-bats last year,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of benefit to getting deeper into counts, whether it’s getting on base more often or getting into somebody’s bullpen earlier. It’s a point of emphasis that we’re going to have to pay attention to.”

The goal during the regular season will be scoring runs, not drawing walks.

“We can’t just come out here and say, `OK, We want you to walk more.’ That just doesn’t get it,” manager Brad Mills said. “Different situations in the games might call for different things. You have to take each at-bat separately.”

And each pitch.

“A lot of it is allowing yourself to get deeper into counts by not swinging at what (the pitcher) wants to get you out with,” Barnett said. “A fastball, down-away at the knees, that’s not a high-percentage pitch to have success with. But if you bring him into the middle of the plate, you work deeper into counts, and before you know it, you’re starting to walk more.”

NOTES: New 2B Bill Hall was excused for the birth of his child. … Wandy Rodriguez will start Monday’s exhibition opener and Brett Myers will start Tuesday’s home exhibition opener, both against Atlanta. Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson will pitch for the Braves.

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