KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Wandy Rodriguez's recovery from a strained intercostal muscle on his left side may be progressing slowly. But what's important is that it's progressing.

Rodriguez threw off flat ground for eight minutes on Wednesday after throwing for six minutes the previous day, and he will now resume his regular pitching schedule. If he comes out of his first bullpen session feeling healthy, he could make a start sometime next week.

When Rodriguez strained the muscle earlier this week, Astros manager Cecil Cooper anticipated that Rodriguez would miss at least two starts -- and it's still more than likely that he will.

"All we can do is keep progressing," Cooper said. "No setbacks, and that's a good thing."

Rodriguez, who finished 9-7 with a 3.54 ERA for the Astros last season, figures to be the team's second starter behind Roy Oswalt this year.

Not so entrenched in the team's plans is his Dominican countryman, Jose Capellan, who started for the Astros in their Wednesday exhibition game against Team Venezuela. Despite pitching three shutout innings against a Venezuelan lineup that featured prominent Major Leaguers such as Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu and Carlos Guillen, Capellan complained about a curveball that sat too high in the zone.

"The curveball's not working good," Capellan said. "But I made a couple of outs with it."

Capellan also impressed with his fastball, one of the livelier ones in camp. It's an important pitch if Capellan has designs on cracking the Astros' rotation.

"I thought his fastball looked really nice and crisp, but his breaking ball was kind of rolling," Cooper said. "It didn't really have that good snap on it, but he threw well. That's the key."

Astros bits: Reliever Chris Sampson, recovering from right elbow surgery, played light catch on Wednesday. He'll throw a 40-pitch bullpen session on Thursday, a 50-pitch session on Saturday, then will progress to batting practice next week. ... Outfielder Yordany Ramirez is still nursing a sore right hamstring, and he isn't likely to see game action until the weekend.