HOU@TEX: Feldman throws seven shutout frames

HOUSTON -- Astros ace Scott Feldman, who's been on the disabled list since April 18 with right biceps tendinitis, threw 35 pitches in the bullpen Tuesday afternoon without any problems, and he is expected to be slotted back into the rotation soon.

Feldman, who went 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA in his first three starts with the Astros, said he'll throw a simulated game on Thursday or Friday, and then should be good to go. He could come off the disabled list as early as Saturday.

"I've just got to sit down with the training staff and coaches and kind of map out where we go from here," he said. "I feel like I could pitch right now. We'll see what happens. We've got to get through the live BP first before we know."

Collin McHugh, who was called up to take Feldman's spot in the rotation, has earned another start after going 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in his first two starts. In 15 1/3 innings, McHugh has allowed five hits and three walks with 19 strikeouts, so the Astros will have an interesting decision to make once Feldman is activated.

Astros righty White progressing in rehab

Alex White underwent Tommy John surgery over a year ago.

HOUSTON -- Called "the forgotten man" by general manager Jeff Luhnow, Astros pitcher Alex White took a huge step forward in his recovery process from Tommy John surgery Tuesday by throwing two innings in a game at extended spring training in Kissimmee, Fla.

Luhnow said the Astros were pleased with what they saw from White, who had the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow repaired a little more than a year ago. White injured the elbow at the end of Spring Training last year, a few months after the Astros acquired him in a trade with the Rockies.

"It was a milestone for him," Luhnow said. "We saw the velocity back up in the neighborhood of where he was before he got hurt. He still has a little more to go, but that's encouraging. All the secondary stuff was sharp today.

"To me, having had the surgery a little over 12 months ago, he should be starting to understand the timetable for him returning to games in the Minor Leagues, and after today, we now can see the end of the tunnel. I'm not going to make any promises, but he'll continue to throw in games down there, and if that continues, we'll send him down on a rehab assignment."

Meanwhile, right-hander Asher Wojciechowski (right lat strain) threw live batting practice Tuesday for the first time and looked and felt good, Luhnow said. Veteran right-hander Jesse Crain (right biceps surgery/bursitis) threw off flat ground again Tuesday and is feeling increasingly better, according to Luhnow.

Second-base prospect Delino DeShields Jr., who suffered a fractured cheekbone when he was hit by a pitch April 18 while playing for Double-A Corpus Christi, has also arrived in Florida to rehab. Luhnow said he's there to take batting practice and potentially see live pitching while the Hooks are on the road.

DeShields could return to Corpus Christi when they return home Saturday.

"We feel like he's getting very close," Luhnow said.

Astros tweaking system for starters at Triple-A

"We're starting -- effective today -- the next phase," said Jeff Luhnow.

HOUSTON -- With right-hander Ross Seaton suffering a minor injury and missing a start, and Lucas Harrell having been traded to the D-backs, the Astros are implementing a six-man rotation at Triple-A Oklahoma City for the time being.

Like much of last year, the Astros have been using a tandem-starter system in the upper level of the Minor Leagues, where two starters would throw four or five innings every four games. With Seaton and Harrell out of the mix, the RedHawks' rotation consists of left-hander Rudy Owens and right-handers Mike Foltynewicz, Jake Buchanan, Nick Tropeano, David Martinez and Bobby Doran.

"This is a temporary transition," general manger Jeff Luhnow said. "We are going back to the modified tandem. I talked to the guys before the season started about the fact that one of the big pieces of feedback we got last year was that over the course of the summer, the players got a little bit fatigued, and we wanted to figure out a way to get more rest for them.

"After the first month of doing the traditional tandem with eight pitchers in groups of two, we're starting -- effective today -- the next phase, which is a little bit different."

Luhnow said the starters are still paired with another pitcher, but each one has additional rest built into their schedule. They will alternate between having their own start and starting in combination with another pitcher.

"It's a little bit complicated, and I'm not going to describe to you the formula of how we're doing it, but the net effect is you will see every Minor League pitcher that has up to now been in a tandem, they will have their own starts, and they will go back into the tandem with the same tandem partner at times," he said.

Luhnow said it will allow the pitchers to get a little bit more rest, as well as give them the opportunity to work deeper into games. The starters will work their way up to a pitch count of 100, which would be the maximum.

"We're excited about it," he said. "We put a lot of time and thought and energy, and gathered a lot of feedback from coaches and the pitchers themselves, and feel like this is a good evolution of the system we started last year, and we're going to try it out for the next month, at least, and see how it goes and get more feedback."

Fowler, Springer bond also growing off field

OAK@HOU: Fowler launches a solo shot to right

HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler has taken George Springer under his wing, and under his roof.

Springer, the rookie right fielder who was called up to the big leagues earlier this month, has been living with the veteran center fielder and his wife and baby daughter at their high-rise in Houston while he looks for his own place to live.

"He didn't have anywhere to live after they kicked him out of the hotel," Fowler joked. "I told him he could stay with me, because we have an extra room."

So what do Fowler and Springer do to pass the time?

"We sit there and talk and watch TV and just chill," Fowler said. "He's good with my daughter, too, so he's a little help."

Springer said having someone like Fowler to look up to on and off the field is huge.

"I don't think I could ask for a better person to take me in, to help me out, just be that guy for me," he said. "Hopefully, he stays that way. It's obviously great, because he's my outfield mate and that's something big, too."

Springer will be mindful of sliding headfirst

HOU@OAK: Springer's first Major League steal

HOUSTON -- Even though manager Bo Porter had talked to him about trying to avoid headfirst slides, rookie outfielder George Springer said it will be difficult to totally eradicate them from his game.

In the wake of injuries to Angels slugger Josh Hamilton and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper stemming from headfirst slides, Porter said recently he would like to see his players avoid doing it. Springer has slid headfirst his entire Minor League career, and hasn't been shy about doing it with the Astros, too.

"It's an instinct to slide headfirst," Springer said. "I have to respect Bo, and assert myself as a player and try to do everything I can to not get hurt. Obviously, sliding headfirst has its risks. I'm not going to be conscious of it when I'm playing. I'm just going to play, and if the situation says I have to slide headfirst, I will, but I'm going to try not to do it."

On Sunday, Porter said: "I don't like headfirst slides. It just exposes too much of your body, and you can get finger and hands [hurt]. I really don't like headfirst slides. Players, for whatever reason, guys that like to slide headfirst, it's more of a knee-jerk thing, as far as their sliding technique. It's something I really don't like, especially when you talk about first base and home plate and the risk of injuries that could happen."

Pitching prospect McCullers fans 10 in win

Top Prospects: Lance McCullers, RHP, Astros

Right-hander Lance McCullers, the Astros' No. 5 prospect and No. 49 overall, struck out a career-high 10 batters in five scoreless innings Tuesday as Class A Advanced Lancaster defeated High Desert, 5-3.

McCullers struck out half the batters he faced. He allowed three hits and one walk en route to his first victory of the season.

Pitching in the piggyback system the Astros employ in most levels in the Minor Leagues, McCullers has thrown 28 2/3 innings in four starts and three relief appearances this season. He has a 2.51 ERA and has struck out 33 batters and walked 12.

Right-hander Kyle Smith, the Astros' No. 19 prospect, relieved McCullers. He allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits and struck out seven batters in 3 2/3 innings.

-- Teddy Cahill

Astros mourn passing of former scout Matthews

HOUSTON -- A moment of silence was held prior to Tuesday's game at Minute Maid Park following the death of Walt Matthews, who served the Astros as a scout, Minor League manager and Minor League player from 1961-2012. He was 72.

Matthews' 50-plus years of continuous service are the most in franchise history.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Walt Matthews, who played a significant role in the Colt .45s/Astros organization for more than 50 years," the team said in a statement. "During his distinguished career in baseball, Walt developed a reputation as one of the top scouts in the game, with a keen eye for evaluating talent.

"He was seen as larger than life by his peers, as a mentor to many young scouts, and as a great friend. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Walt's wife, Vicky, his entire family, and his many friends throughout the game and beyond."