HOUSTON -- Astros shortstop Clint Barmes, who broke a bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch in a March 25 Spring Training game, continues to make solid progress and could make his Astros debut by the end of the month. Barmes swung a bat on Monday for the first time since suffering the injury, taking about 20 hacks without making any contact.

"It's definitely getting better day to day," Barmes said. "Dry swinging today, it was still sore and I could still feel it, but it's getting stronger. I can do a lot more with my hand in the weight room and can grip more things. It's definitely heading in the right direction.

"It's not there where I could start hitting off somebody throwing a ball to me. Hopefully, that's a couple of days away. Right now, we're taking it day to day for the most part. I'm pushing it pretty good and this is one thing I was looking forward to, was grabbing a bat and seeing how it was."

Barmes tipped his cap to Angel Sanchez, who has done a nice job filling in for him at shortstop. Sanchez entered Monday hitting .364 in 33 at-bats and led the team with four multi-hit games.

"I'm very happy for him and for us that he's stepped up, which isn't that surprising," Barmes said. "He can play the game. I saw him this spring, played with him all spring and I got see firsthand. He comes in and gets his work in and I couldn't be happier for him right now."

Inglett makes first start against Cubs

HOUSTON -- With starting second baseman Bill Hall getting a day off, Joe Inglett made his first start in an Astros uniform in Monday's series opener against the Cubs. Inglett, acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay late in Spring Training, is 0-for-5 as a pinch-hitter this season.

Inglett went 1-for-5 during the Astros' 5-4 loss to the Cubs. Hall entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter and promptly homered. He also singled in the ninth inning.

"I'm excited to get more than one at-bat," Inglett said before the game. "The more at-bats you get, the better you feel."

Inglett led the Majors last year with 20 pinch-hits, going 20-for-68 with the Brewers with a home run and six RBIs. He had four pinch-hit triples last year and has a career .269 batting average as a pinch-hitter. The Astros traded for Inglett to fill a need for a let-handed bat off the bench.

He started 17 games last year for the Brewers, including two at second base.

"There's an art to pinch-hitting and not too many guys have mastered it," he said. "There's a few guys that are good, but it's just nice that you don't have to go in and just ambush the first pitch [as a starter]. You can actually work the count, see a few pitches and let the situations dictate what you do."

The only position player who has yet to make a start is outfielder Jason Michaels, but manager Brad Mills said Michaels will get one soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday when the Cubs send left-hander James Russell to the mound.

"We need to get these guys some at-bats," Mills said. "[Matt] Downs get a start [Sunday] and got four at-bats, and I thought today was a good day to give Ingy a chance to start and get him some consistent at-bats."

Johnson among Astros taking extra hacks

HOUSTON -- The Astros' Chris Johnson, Matt Downs, Brett Wallace and Joe Inglett took early batting practice under the sun at Minute Maid Park on Monday afternoon. Hitting coach Mike Barnett said he'll have groups take early hitting from time to time during the season.

"Wally just wanted a few extra swings and so did C.J.," Barnett said. "C.J. wanted to work on staying behind the baseball and inside the baseball and just to get a few extra swings. Joe's playing [in the starting lineup Monday] and he wanted to get a few extras to stay sharp, and the same thing with Downs.

The extra work resulted in a mixed bag of production during Monday's game. All four players had hits, with Downs' pinch-hit driving in a run in the fifth inning. Wallace and Johnson both went 1-for-3, and Inglett went 1-for-5.

"The guys coming off the bench, you like to get those guys as many swings as you can during the day," Barnett said before the game. "That's why Downs jumped in. More than anything -- it's not really working on anything super special -- just getting some extra swings."

The Astros set season highs for hits and runs in the final two games of the weekend series against the Marlins, bashing 16 hits on Sunday and scoring seven times.

"Things are picking up," Barnett said. "It's early, and we've got to stay the course and keep grinding every day. That's the big thing. I think we've done a lot of good things. We've been pretty pleased with situational hitting to this point, but it's something we've still go to get better at. I thought our approach [Sunday] was real good and our pitch selection was better, and that's something day in and day out we've always got to get better at."

Worth noting

• Astros right-hander Alberto Arias, who hasn't pitched since undergoing shoulder surgery a year ago, threw live batting practice on Monday in Kissimmee, Fla., and continues to progress well.
• Infielder Jeff Keppinger, who underwent surgery in January to remove the sesamoid bone from his left foot, could begin taking batting practice this week. He's also working out in Kissimmee.