Lowrie progressing, but return date not set

Astros shortstop building up hand strength following thumb surgery

Lowrie progressing, but return date not set

CLEVELAND -- It's been 10 weeks since Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie went down with a ligament tear of his right thumb that required surgery. Lowrie is making slow and steady progress, but he still faces several hurdles before he can go on a Minor League rehab assignment.

Lowrie began taking batting practice in the hitting cage on flips while the team was in Boston last weekend, and he's been fielding grounders on the infield for about a week. The next step will be taking full-fledged batting practice from a coach, manager A.J. Hinch said.

"Hopefully that's sooner than later," Hinch said. "It's really a slow process to get hand strength back."

How Lowrie will fit into the Astros' batting order upon his return remains to be seen. With rookie Carlos Correa now entrenched at shortstop, expect the veteran to move around, starting some at third base, designated hitter, as well as a few starts at shortstop.

Hinch said Lowrie could continue his rehab during the All-Star break next week at the team's Spring Training facility in Kissimmee, Fla.

"When he's ready to go out and play, we'll have a game plan for him as he gets into games," Hinch said. "I talk to him every day in some capacity. We've really haven't gotten too specific. He's taken ground balls at short and third. He's watching and he understands. He's played just about everywhere in his career, but having a definitive plan -- until we put a calendar in front of him where he's going to go, [Double-A] Corpus [Christi] or [Triple-A] Fresno, it's nothing that we're discussing."

• Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who has a left big toe sprain, has improved, Hinch said. He said Valbuena is "slightly better," but he added it was predetermined before Valbuena got to the ballpark that he was going to have another non-activity day. "We're hoping that a couple of days rest will do wonders for him," Hinch said. "I know it's not as sensitive to the touch as it was yesterday, which is a good sign."

• The Astros signed 11th-round Draft pick Patrick Sandoval, a left-handed pitcher from Mission Viejo High School in California. He received $900,000, according to MLB.com's Jim Callis, which is the highest bonus given after the seventh round. The club did not disclose terms of the deal. The 18-year-old went 9-3 with a 0.97 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings this year en route to being named Perfect Game All-American.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.