Michaels returns for Bucs' home opener

PITTSBURGH -- In some ways, Monday afternoon happened exactly like Jason Michaels envisioned it this offseason, sitting in PNC Park preparing for the Pirates' home opener. The fact he was in the visitors' clubhouse with an Astros uniform on was the only deviation from the script.

When the 2008 season concluded, the Pirates decided not to pick up the outfielder's option, but there did seem to be early interest to re-sign him to be part of the outfield rotation here. When Michaels never heard from the Pirates, he sought employment elsewhere, landing a spot in Houston as a backup outfielder and right-handed pinch-hitting option off the bench.

Considering how things played out prior to the year, it wouldn't have been surprising for there to be some bitterness. But that's not a part of Michaels' makeup, and he's chosen instead to just turn the page and start fresh.

"I have no ill feelings towards them at all," said Michaels, who was in the Astros' starting lineup and in center field for the first time in 2009 on Monday afternoon. "I understand it's a business. that's just the way it is. I wish them a lot of luck.

"I enjoyed being here and being over there with those guys last year. There's a lot of great players over there, and for years to come, too. I enjoyed it, I really did. They're going to have a good team."

Over the Astros' first six games, Michaels had picked up just three pinch-hitting appearances, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout. With Houston facing lefty Zach Duke on Monday and manager Cecil Cooper trying to give a push to an offense that scored just 16 runs over its first six games, Michaels was hitting sixth, giving Michael Bourn the day off.

"We needed to get Jason Michaels into the lineup, get him some at-bats," Cooper said. "He's going to be a guy who's going to help us throughout the year, particularly against left-handed pitching. I thought this was a perfect day. He knows this club pretty well, so it's a good opportunity for him. Hopefully, that will help to jump start us a little bit."

With Michaels staying within the NL Central, he will have the opportunity to beat up on his former teammates, not that revenge is a motivator for him. Getting the Astros back on track and keeping up with a fairly even division is enough to get him going.

"It's a tough division," Michaels said. "I think all the teams are pretty equal. It's going to be a battle all the way to the end.

"I think everything is fine," he continued about the Astros' slow start. "I don't know what it is. I don't really have an answer for that. We need to start today and win today."