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With a few more nights like he had Saturday against the Salt Lake Buzz, Tucson's Brian Hunter just might hit himself out of a Toros' uniform and into a spot on the Houston Astros' lineup.

The Buzz and most of the 14,835 fans who attended probably wouldn't mind seeing him called up either.The 6-foot-4 Toro ripped the Salt Lake pitching staff, going 4-for-6 with five RBI as Tucson pierced the Buzz 10-7 at Franklin Quest Field.

His biggest hit of the night, a three-run homer over the left-field fence, keyed a four-run burst as the Toros broke away from a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning.

"I didn't really get my arms fully extended, but I was looking to swing," he said of his long ball that he hit with two outs and an 0-2 count. "I just got lucky and got my hands on it."

"He hit .372 last year, why's he still in the minor leagues?" asked Buzz manager Phil Roof. "He showed a lot of skills against us tonight."

Hunter thinks he knows why he hasn't been promoted yet.

"It's all politics and numbers," said the center fielder, who figured he'd be called up when the Astros and San Diego Padres made their huge offseason trade. "I think I'll be up there soon, but I just have to keep working."

Meanwhile, Buzz pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, who is the Twins' top prospect, struggled in the loss. In 51/3 innings, he gave up five runs, eight hits and four walks.

"He's still not sharp and has a long ways to go," said Roof, adding that the shortened spring training with Minnesota hurt Hawkins' control.

One bright spot for the Buzz was the return of fan-favorite Bernardo Brito. In his first at-bat since returning from a short stint with the Twins, Brito nailed a home run much to the delight of the fifth-largest crowd in Buzz history.

With the loss, the Buzz, who were leading the Pacific Coast League Northern Division, dropped to 23-18, while the Toros improved to 21-19. The two will play again this afternoon at 2 p.m. at Franklin Quest Field.

GAME NOTES: Chip Hale, who was sent down from the Minnesota Twins Saturday, started the game at second base. He went 0-5 from the plate . . . To fill a place on the roster for Hale, the Buzz released pitcher Judd Johnson, who had signed with the Twins' organization in the off season . . . Johnson went 1-1 with an ERA of 3.43 in 17 appearances for the Buzz this season . . . With a double in the first inning, right fielder Mitch Simons has now hit safely in 10 straight games.