Hinch will ease Lowrie back into full action

Hinch will ease Lowrie back into full action

HOUSTON -- The return of Jed Lowrie to a jumbled Astros infield will be a gradual one, according to manager A.J. Hinch, who will try to balance four first basemen jockeying for playing time now that Lowrie occupies third.

Though Hinch said Lowrie, who started Thursday's series finale hitting fifth and playing third base, won't play every day initially, he maintained the best Houston lineup contains the eight-year veteran infielder who had been sidelined since late April with a torn ligament in his right thumb.

"The strength is the biggest question," Hinch said. "How much endurance does he have? Does he wake up after some of the intensity that happens in the big leagues and have any sort of soreness? I'm probably going to nurse him into action, sort of similar how you do in Spring Training, or similar to how you do at the beginning of the season, where he may play a day, sit a day."

Lowrie, who played third base in five rehab games at Double-A Corpus Christi before being activated, said he feels comfortable there even though he didn't have many balls hit his way in his short Minor League stint.

"Just being out there, getting into the rhythm of the game, getting out on defense, sitting back down on the bench, there's a certain element to that where you just have to get in shape, essentially," Lowrie said. "I've [played third] before, and it's just a matter of taking those reps."

With Lowrie cemented at third, the battle for first-base playing time is among Chris Carter, Marwin Gonzalez, Jon Singleton and Luis Valbuena -- who got the first crack at the job on Thursday.

Valbuena said he'd never played first base in his life but has worked at the position every day for the last two weeks.

"Obviously, he's worked over there quite a bit in the spring and the last couple of weeks," Hinch said. "We don't have much of a choice really, other than to try it in a game There's nothing more for him to do other than to get in there. We want to keep his bat in the lineup. He's a good infielder, he'll figure it out."

Another variable in Hinch's decision-making each day is the progression of Lowrie's swings from both sides of the plate. Initially, Hinch and Lowrie said the right-handed swing would be a bit behind his left-handed swing with the injury, but Lowrie was pleasantly surprised with the comfort he felt swinging from both sides of the plate.

Facing right-handed pitching each day until Sunday against the D-backs, Hinch said Houston will mix and match accordingly before Sunday, ensuring Lowrie stays healthy.

"I've got a lot of options," Hinch said. "Marwin is swinging the bat very well right-handed, and I know Carter can play first against lefties. I think that's a possibility. Right now, I just want to see Jed back in the lineup playing today, get a look at what this type of configuration on the infield looks like, and go from there."

Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.