By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
HOUSTON -- Last year was magical for Darnell McDonald.
This year has been more like a nightmare.
McDonald hasn't gotten a lot of playing opportunities, and when he has, he hasn't done much with them. Coming into Saturday's game, he was hitting a paltry .115 with an equally low slugging percentage of .192.
One swing isn't going to turn his season around, but the three-run homer McDonald cranked in the Red Sox' four-run seventh may at least be a start.
"It felt real good,'' said McDonald after the Red Sox bashed Houston 10-4. "I know things are going to turn around for me. I've been working hard and I've been feeling good at the plate. I just haven't been getting results. It feels good to get rewarded with the home run.
"But the main thing is getting something positive going and keeping the same approach -- trying to go up there and give my team a quality at-bat. It's a long season and it's a humbling game. Hopefully, this will get me going.''
Before the game, Terry Francona said he thought about going with the much hotter Josh Reddick, but ultimately decided on McDonald because he hits righthanded -- the Astros started lefty J.A. Happ -- and because "I want to get Darnell hot. He spent all that time behind (Mike Cameron) and didn't get at-bats. Then he goes and gets his rehab at Triple A and swung the bat great. Then he came back here and looked like he was going to swing the bat great and kind of went the other way. I want to get him going a little bit... I really do want Mac to face some of these lefties because of what he can do and it gives us some balance on our bench."
Now that Mike Cameron has been designated for assignment, McDonald is currently the only righthanded-hitting outfielder the Sox have. Now would be a good time to make his claim for more playing time.
"That's the same swing Darnell had last year,'' said Francona.
McDonald has been taking extra hitting with hitting coach Dave Magadan and trying to improve his timing, especially on fastballs.
"I want to use today as something to build on,' said McDonald.
Andrew Miller's third start since being promoted was another good one: six innings, seven hits allowed, two runs against.
Miller had something of a rocky first inning with the Astros bashing out three hits right off the top, but he limited the damage to a single run and made adjustments.
"It was a tough first inning,'' said Francona. "It looked like he didn't have a ton of velocity and they hit some balls hard. But we got out of it with one and pitched.''
"The way things started,'' said Miller, "it was certainly nice to escape with limited damage and be able to get on a roll after that.''
In six innings, Miller got three double-play balls, including two to end innings.
"I kept the ball down and mixed it up,'' said Miller. "I think we got one on a changeup, some on the fastball. I think keeping the hitters off-balance is important and were were able to do that today.''