HOUSTON -- Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie remained hopeful Thursday afternoon that he could be in the lineup for Friday's Opening Day game against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park. Lowrie hit soft toss and hit off the tee Thursday and fielded grounders on the field and says his sprained right thumb is feeling better by the day.

"I felt great today," he said. "It's another step in the right direction, so I'm encouraged. It's just one of those things that you just continue to go down that road and continue to progress."

Lowrie sprained the thumb eight days ago and hasn't played since. The Astros are debating whether to put him on the disabled list to start the season and activate Brian Bixler or keep Lowrie on the active roster with hopes he can play this weekend.

"I don't want to count it out," Lowrie said. "I want to wake [Friday] and see how it feels. They want to see me do a few things before they give it the OK and I'm in the same boat. I need to get into a few rounds of batting practice. Let's just take steps forward every day."

Astros manager Brad Mills said he's made out his lineup for Friday's game with Lowrie being ready to play.

"With as much as it has improved these last couple of days, there's definitely a real good chance," he said.

If Lowrie can't play, rookie Marwin Gonzalez, a Rule 5 Draft pick, will start at shortstop.

Crane eyes sellout in first game as owner

HOUSTON -- On the eve of his first game as the owner of the Astros, Jim Crane dropped by Minute Maid Park on Thursday afternoon and stopped to talk to reporters in the home dugout while the team was wrapping up its final workout.

Crane, who led a group that purchased the team in November from Drayton McLane, said he thinks the Astros will sell out their opener Friday against the Rockies. At the end of business Thursday, a couple hundred seats and standing-room-only tickets were all that remained.

"The whole staff's been working very hard on it, to make sure we get a sellout on the first day," he said.

Crane and some of his ownership partners will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday, and Crane said former president George Bush, a Houston resident, will be in attendance. Country music star Clay Walker will sing "God Bless America" and "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.

"We're going to have a fun night and everybody is excited," Crane said.

And Crane plans to address the team prior to the game.

"We're working on some of that [what he's going to say], but they've worked hard this spring and guys have earned their spots and we're excited to have them," he said. "I want to let them know how hard the rest of the staff has worked to make this a good season and have been working on the tickets and the fans are paying the bills and they need to understand that.

"We're probably going to ask them to do a little bit more with the community than they've done in the past. I'll mention that and a few other things."

Crane, who made his fortune in the shipping and freight industry, said owning a team on Opening Day is atop his list of achievements.