SAN DIEGO -- With his omnipresent smile and a bounce in his step, outfielder Jason Bourgeois joined the Astros on Saturday after spending about a month on the disabled list with an oblique strain. He was hitting .407 with seven RBIs and 12 stolen bases prior to getting injured, and went 5-for-9 in two games in his Minor League rehab assignment at Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"I know I can hit up here, and I think I've proven that with the playing time I was getting," he said. "I just want to pick up where I left off. I felt good in the box the last couple of days. My body feels good, my legs feel good. I really couldn't ask for a better situation, physically."
Bourgeois has started four games in center field, five in left field and one at second base this year for the Astros, and manager Brad Mills expects him to continue to be versatile.
"We'll mix him in, and get some at-bats and get him some playing time," Mills said. "He's a big contributor to the ballclub with his ability, and the way he runs and plays the outfield and can hit. We can utilize those tools quite a bit."
Releasing Hall a difficult decision
SAN DIEGO -- General manager Ed Wade said the Astros' decision to cut ties with second baseman Bill Hall wasn't easy, considering how much money they owed him and the fact he was their biggest free-agent acquisition of the winter.
Following Friday's loss to the Padres, the Astros said they were asking waivers on Hall for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Houston signed Hall last winter in an effort to beef up its run production. But he hit .224 with only two homers in 147 at-bats, striking out 55 times.
"We thought that Bill could come in here and give us more run production in the middle of the diamond -- and, unfortunately, he struggled," Wade said. "I feel bad for him and us. I take it as an error in judgment on my part that he could fill a role that we thought was important and be effective at it. It didn't work out that way."
If Hall is not claimed by another club by Wednesday, he will become an unrestricted free agent. The Astros owe him the remainder of his $3 million salary and a $250,000 buyout. But if he signs a deal for the league minimum with another team, Houston would receive relief at the prorated amount of $414,000.
Wade said he spoke to Astros owner Drayton McLane and owner-in-waiting Jim Crane before making the move, considering the financial ramifications. Crane is awaiting Major League Baseball's approval after signing a sales-purchase agreement to buy the club from McLane last month.
"I just thought it was important," Wade said. "Once Jim's group gets approved, they're going to be looking at the bottom line and looking at our payroll numbers. It's still Drayton's club, and still on Drayton's watch and still Drayton's money. But at the same time, we thought it was important to make them aware of where we thought this thing was headed. They were good listeners and supportive."
Lack of lefty bench bats doesn't worry Mills
SAN DIEGO -- The return of Jason Bourgeois gives the Astros a versatile bench, even if it lacks any left-handed sticks. The lack of a lefty off the bench isn't ideal for manager Brad Mills, but he believes he's got some guys capable of putting together some good at-bats against right-handers.
Jason Michaels, who has one hit in 16 at-bats against right-handers this year, is a career .254 hitter against righties. Bourgeois (.382), Matt Downs (.289) and Angel Sanchez (.257) have all had varying degrees of success against right-handers this year.
"I have no problems with any of those guys up there against any right-handers," Mills said.
The Astros traded for Joe Inglett in Spring Training to provide some left-handed prowess, but he didn't work out. Brian Bogusevic has seen some time with the Major League club, but is currently at Triple-A.
"In a perfect world, you've got room for the prototypical left-handed bat off the bench, pinch-hit type of guy," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "We have four guys who can play a lot of different positions. You can take the catcher out of the equation, but the other four bench guys need to know how to do more than one thing."
Bourgeois and Michaels can play all three outfield spots, with Bourgeois capable of playing second base. Downs can play anywhere on the infield and could play the corner outfield spots. Sanchez can play third base, shortstop or second base.
"It's important to have that," Wade said. "And that said, we still don't have a left-handed bat off the bench. That's one of the sacrifices we have to make with the way other guys are performing."
Keppinger steps in as regular at second again
SAN DIEGO -- In each of the last two seasons, the Astros have released the player who began the season as their starting second baseman because of their offensive struggles and the fact veteran Jeff Keppinger has proven capable of handling the job.
Keppinger wrestled the starting second-base job away from Kaz Matsui last year, and he returned from the disabled list this year and quickly sent Bill Hall to the bench. The Astros cut ties with Hall on Friday night.
"Guys like me, that's what we've got to do," said Keppinger, who's with his fifth different organization. "These chances don't come around too often. I've been quite lucky in my career that something has happened where I've gotten a chance to play every day, and I've done a good job. I'm not going to toot my own horn, but I've done what I've needed to do to be able to stick around and get the chance to get in there and play every day."
Keppinger missed the first 50 games of the season after undergoing foot surgery in January. The Astros had a deal to trade him to the Yankees in the winter before the foot became an issue, and general manager Ed Wade lauded Keppinger's stick-to-it-iveness.
"He had surgery, and the club breaks Spring Training camp and he's in extended spring training, which for a veteran player is like a dose of cold water," Wade said. "He went through it without complaining about where he was and goes on a rehab assignment, and we asked him to extend it to make sure he was healthy and try to buy more time for Bill Hall to get his feet on the ground. He didn't gripe through any of that stuff."
Right-hander Brandon Lyon, who's been on the disabled list since May 5 with right biceps tendinitis and a partial tear of the rotator cuff, left San Diego on Saturday to join the Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, where he will throw one inning on Sunday and Tuesday.
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, on the disabled list since May 23 with fluid in his left elbow, will throw an extended bullpen on Sunday in San Diego, with the goal of testing out his breaking pitches. He's scheduled to make a short rehab outing at Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.