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By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - The shortest player in the majors is a big reason the Houston Astros are finding some success early in the season.
Jose Altuve, all of 5-foot-5, entered Thursday ranked fourth in the National League with a .358 batting average. He was first in the NL with 13 multi-hit games and third with 34 hits.
Altuve has the best batting average and most hits for a second baseman in either league, and his .404 on base percentage is also tops at his position.
He's already gained a fan in Craig Biggio, who spent most of his two decades with the Astros manning second base before retiring in 2007. Biggio currently works for the Astros as a special assistant to the general manager.
"He doesn't let his size get in the way, and that's what I love about him the most," Biggio said. "He plays like he's 6-4. He plays the game the right way, and he's pretty good at it."
Quiet and modest, the Venezuelan seems to still be getting used to the fact that he's not only in the majors, but is one of the leading hitters in the NL. The baby-faced Altuve's eyes light up when he's asked about keeping pace with some of the stars of the game so far this season.
"When we go to other fields and they have the top hitters in the National League on the board and I see guys like Matt Kemp and David Wright and those guys are like superstar guys that I used to watch on TV, and now I'm with them and I think that's really good," he said.
The 21-year-old Altuve is also the youngest player on a team filled with young players, and one of the youngest in all of baseball.
"We've always felt he was mature beyond his years," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "But when you're in a situation where you're seeing him make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, from pitcher to pitcher, that's been really impressive."
Altuve never played in Triple-A and all of his 35 games in Double-A came last season before he joined the Astros in July. Despite his batting .361 with five homers, 25 RBIs and 52 hits in Double-A, many doubted that he could succeed in the majors because of his size.
"Everywhere I go, I know people are going to talk about my height, but that just encourages me to keep playing hard and prove to everybody that short guys can play too," Altuve said.
It didn't take long for Altuve to quell some of the doubt after hitting .359 through his first 11 games last season and entering September with a .305 average. He slowed down a bit in the last month of the season, hitting just .209.
It was that tough month that taught him a lesson he believes has propelled him to this season's hot start.
"When I came here last year in the beginning everything was good, but like half of the season they started throwing pitches that I didn't want and I kept swinging," he said. "When I went back home I started thinking about adjustments. They've made that adjustment and now it's time for me to do it."
Altuve never looks big on the field, but he looked especially tiny on Tuesday night when he faced Mets reliever Jon Rauch, who at 6-11 is the tallest player in major league history. No one else currently on an active roster is listed as shorter than 5-8, and there are only a handful of players that size, notably Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Phillies star Jimmy Rollins.
Mills, who was the bench coach for the Red Sox before joining the Astros, said Altuve's play and attitude remind him a lot of Pedroia.
"Dustin really took care of his body because he was (smaller) than everyone else," Mills said. "The bigger guys can dive head first and tear their bodies up and they can take it, but the little guys can't."
Altuve leads a core of young talent the Astros are hoping to build their team around. At 11-14, the Astros aren't off to a great start, but the solid play of Altuve, Jordan Schafer and J.D. Martinez has Houston optimistic that the team is much better than last season when it finished a franchise-worst 56-106.
"There's so many young guys that are working together right now to help the team win, and I think that's real exciting and I feel real good about that," Altuve said. "When you see the roster, you see a lot of young guys that are trying to prove themselves and show that they belong here. So it's really fun right now."
Houston was off on Thursday and takes a three-game winning streak into the start of Friday's series against St. Louis.