HOUSTON -- Manager Brad Mills had rookie catcher Jason Castro hitting in the No. 6 spot in the batting order for the second time since he was recalled. Mills likes having a left-handed hitter like Castro batting behind right-handers Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence.

Rookie third baseman Chris Johnson, who entered Thursday in an 0-for-8 funk, hit seventh behind Castro.

"It seems like Johnson seems to be a little bit more comfortable in the seven spot," Mills said. "I like to have a left-handed hitter hitting in the sixth spot. It's a combination of things, like when Johnson is swinging the bat better and putting him up there at sixth, but I prefer to have a left-handed hitter like Castro hit sixth. If Johnson continues to swing the bat better at the seventh spot and that fits in with him, that's what we'd like to have happen."

Castro snapped an 0-for-13 streak by going 1-for-3 with a walk on Tuesday.

"I'm just trying to be aggressive and keep doing the thing I've been doing and have good at-bats," Castro said. "I can't control some of the stuff, hitting balls at guys, and things like that."

Paulino throws batting practice

HOUSTON -- For the first time since he went on the disabled list on June 21 with right shoulder tendinitis, starting pitcher Felipe Paulino faced hitters on Thursday. The big right-hander threw live batting practice at Minute Maid Park prior to the game against the Pirates, tossing 30 pitches.

"I was a little rusty, but it was the first day," Paulino said. "It's a good step, and I have to try to get ready for the next one. I was a little wild on my pitches, but my fastball command was great."

Paulino, if all goes well, would start the fifth game after the All-Star break on July 20 in Chicago. He said he's scheduled to pitch a simulated game on Monday. He's got a 4.40 ERA in 14 starts, but has a 1-8 record because of the worst run support in the league.

Astros general manager Ed Wade said giving Paulino the extra time at the All-Star break is a blessing in disguise, considering he's thrown 86 innings and was on pace to shatter his career high in innings pitched as a professional.

"At some point, we're going to reach a threshold where it's going to be difficult for him to build up innings beyond that threshold," Wade said. "Maybe buying some time right now gets him through the entire season. It's sort of two-pronged: make sure he's healthy, but also give him a chance to take a start or two off and have the innings build up on the back end."

Moehler not worried about groin injury

HOUSTON -- Astros starting pitcher Brian Moehler, who left Wednesday's game against the Pirates after three innings because of a strained groin, was examined by team doctors on Thursday. Moehler has been dealing with a groin issue for several starts.

"It's nothing that I'm overly concerned about," Moehler said. "As far as the timing, it couldn't have come at a better time. I'll have four days off and four days after that [for the All-Star break], and if I do start again, it's going to be on the back end of the rotation, so that's another four days."

Moehler, who is 1-4 with a 4.92 ERA in 20 games, including eight starts, will likely be moved back to the bullpen after the All-Star break now that Bud Norris is healthy and Felipe Paulino could be activated to rejoin the rotation.

"There's moving parts, and hopefully, this is something we can resolve without having to think about making a move with him," Astros general manager Ed Wade said.

Astros still gushing over Ovando

HOUSTON -- One day after signing 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Ariel Ovando to a contract with a bonus worth a reported $2.6 to $2.8 million, Astros general manager Ed Wade praised the work Astros director of Latin American operations Felix Francisco did to get Ovando into the fold.

"There were a lot of clubs on him," Wade said. "Some clubs had him graded higher or lower than we did, but we go by what our guys said. We had enough eyes on him to go the extra mile to try to get it done."

Francisco, eastern regional supervisor Clarence Johns, assistant general manager/scouting director Bobby Heck and assistant general manager/player development director Ricky Bennett all had glowing scouting reports. Ovando, who stands 6-foot-4, will be 17 years old on Sept. 15. Latin players are eligible to be signed if they are 16 years old by July 2 and will turn 17 prior to Sept. 1 of that year.

"Four different scouting reports say this kid is a middle-of-the-order power bat with fast hands, a 30-homer, 100-RBI potential kind of guy with good defensive skills and a strong arm," Wade said. "We'll see. A lot can happen."

Ovando is expected to report to the Astros' Latin American complex in Boca Chica, D.R., in the next few days, and he's scheduled to participate in the Florida instructional league in Kissimmee, Fla., in September. Wade didn't rule out having him start next season at Rookie League Greeneville.

"We'll have to wait until he gets in our uniform and see what type of progress he makes over the winter," he said.

Worth noting

Infielder Geoff Blum, who had minor elbow surgery on Wednesday, was examined by a team doctor Thursday. He's out for two to four weeks. ... Minor League infielder Jose Vallejo, who severed tendons in two fingers on his right hand in a cooking accident in January, has returned to action at Double-A Corpus Christi. "That's really good news for us," general manager Ed Wade said. "Some of us, including me, questioned if he would ever play again. The fact he's gone from surgery in January to Double-A is pretty remarkable." He was acquired from the Texas Rangers last year as one of the players to be named later in the Ivan Rodriguez trade.