KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who needed three stitches in his right shin to close a gash suffered in Wednesday's game, was held out of the starting lineup on Thursday by manager Brad Mills as a precaution. Pence said that he could have played.

"He came in and lobbied to play, but in a situation like that, he's got to get a tetanus shot and is doing some other things," Mills said. "He's going to through all the drills and see how he feels, and we'll put him back in there [on Friday] night.

"We still have a few more days for him to play as we move forward, but to put him in right away after having stitches put in [on Wednesday], I'm not comfortable with that, and neither are the trainers. That's the bottom line. He'll do all the work and do everything he can, and if everything's OK he'll be back in there [on Friday]."

Pence's leg was cut as slid into home plate in the fifth inning of Wednesday's win over the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. Pence went 3-for-3 in the game and hit his first homer of the spring.

Chemistry appears right for Barmes, Hall

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- With the start of the regular season one week away, Astros shortstop Clint Barmes and second baseman Bill Hall have had an adequate amount of time to get used to their new teammates and, more important, each other in the middle of the field.

Barmes has shown good range this spring, and the pair figures to get plenty of chances to turn double plays in the regular season.

"The communication was there from the beginning," Barmes said. "From the experience Billy's got, he makes it really easy. It's just getting a feel more than anything, how he turns double plays, where he likes it and how he flips the ball to me and different things that way. I feel very comfortable up the middle with him, and I've enjoyed this spring getting a chance to work with him. I'm excited about the season coming up."

Hall feels just as comfortable but knows that adjustments will have to be made.

"It's winding down, but we feel like we're pretty much where we need to be with our chemistry," Hall said. "We understand every throw from each other is not going to be perfect, but we're both athletic enough to make adjustments, whether the feeds are a little off or things like that.

"It's time to bump it up a notch and make sure we're mistake-free as much as possible. I think we've learned the outfielders' arms and what to expect and how everybody throws. We're ready."

Closing spring games not priority for Lyon

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Getting a chance to work the ninth inning in save situations during Spring Training isn't a priority for either Astros closer Brandon Lyon or manager Brad Mills.

Lyon, who threw 20 pitches in a Minor League game on Wednesday, simulates save situations each time he takes the mound in the spring, whether it's in the sixth inning or the team is behind by a bunch of runs. Lyon is scheduled to pitch again on Saturday.

"It's not important at all," Lyon said. "I get in the game and look at the situation and the score, and even if we're losing, I just put myself in those situations and say, 'Hey, don't give up a run.' That's my mind-set, and the goal is the same to me, to pitch the situation, throw strikes, and go out there and make quality pitches."

Mills said that Lyon could get a chance to close a game as spring winds down because the starters are pitching deeper into the contests, but he's not going to force the issue.

"Keeping him on schedule, continuing to throw, is probably more important," Mills said.

Keppinger nears return to batting cage

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros infielder Jeff Keppinger, who will begin the season on the disabled list after undergoing surgery on Jan. 14 to remove a bone in his left foot, could take his first swings of the spring on Friday. Keppinger wore a boot for eight weeks and has been doing balancing drills, working out and playing catch.

Keppinger must be cleared to run before he can do any additional baseball-related drills, such as fielding ground balls. The doctors told him it would be 12 weeks post-surgery before he could run, and he plans to remain in Kissimmee when camp is over to continue his workouts.

"It's definitely getting closer," Keppinger said. "Just getting the boot off was a big help and allows me to do more things to strengthen my foot. Just walking around is helping me out big time."

Keppinger, 30, led the Astros last year in doubles, with 34, and set career highs in hits, doubles, runs scored, RBIs, walks and stolen bases. He wrestled the starting second-base job away from Kazuo Matsui early in the season but began having foot problems in August, which eventually led to him having the sesamoid bone removed.

Astros sign Nieve to Minor League deal

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Astros have signed right-hander Fernando Nieve to a Minor League deal. Nieve pitched for the Astros in 2006 and 2008 and for the Mets the past two years before being released by the Pirates on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old passed a physical on Thursday and has reported to Minor League camp.

Signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent in 1999, Nieve went 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 11 starts for the Astros in 2006. Injuries hampered him in 2007, and he appeared in only five games at the Triple-A level. He appeared in 11 games for the Astros in 2008 and was eventually released.

He went 5-7 with a 5.48 ERA in two seasons with the Mets, appearing in 48 games (10 starts).