KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Cecil Cooper missed the first three innings of the Astros' game with the Mets on Sunday in order to watch right-hander Brandon Backe and catcher J.R. Towles play in a Minor League game on the back fields of Osceola County Stadium.

Cooper's main focus was Towles, who has yet to play in a big league game since straining his hamstring on March 8. He was cleared to catch Backe, but he is still not allowed to hit or run hard. Athletic trainers made sure the 24-year-old understood that before the game started.

"They said, 'Just don't run hard,' " Towles said. "'Whatever you do, just don't do it hard. If there's a popup down the line, don't run after it.' "

The same applied to wild pitches to the backstop. However, Towles was able to do everything else, including blocking balls in the dirt and throwing to second base.

"I feel good," he said. "I didn't feel [the strain] one time."

"He caught well, he threw well," Cooper said.

Backe, on the other hand, struggled a bit during his outing. He allowed four runs on six hits over five frames, walking two and striking out three. Two errors by the defense were partly to blame, but according to Backe, the mound was somewhat responsible, as well.

The surface apparently felt less like a mound and more like a cement wall.

"I used to pitch on those all the time," Backe said. "You get spoiled when you get to the big leagues and you pitch on good mounds."

Backe backed up his claim by pointing to his right shoe, which had a large hole on the inside, near the big toe. Apparently, the friction of the mound wore through the leather.

"I don't want to pitch back there again," he said. "I don't want to see that field one more time. I know it's different with the weather conditions out here, and you have players constantly beating up the mound, beating up the field. It's tough. Being out there too long will cause a change in mechanics, and coming off surgery, I don't need to deal with it."