LAKELAND, Fla. -- In many ways, Jason Castro's return to Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday signified just how far he has come since the previous time he set foot in the ballpark. That was on March 2, 2011, when Castro stepped awkwardly on first base, tore up his right knee and was lost for the season.
Castro announced his return in style, hitting a leadoff homer in the third inning in his first at-bat Sunday against the Tigers.
"I tried to stay away from the old locker I was at from the last time," Castro joked before the game. "But no, it's in the past, and I'm just looking forward to getting in the last game of the spring, getting it over with and heading out tomorrow."
Castro has proven to be completely healthy while putting together a good spring at the plate and defensively. He will start on Opening Day on Friday against the Rockies.
He's undoubtedly come a long way in 13 months.
"It actually seems like a lot longer than it really has been," he said. "I went through a lot this past year, and I'm just really happy to be back where I'm at right now and the spot I'm in this close to the season. I missed a lot of time and I'm looking forward to making up for it."
Lowrie testing thumb as Astros weigh options
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Shortstop Jed Lowrie didn't travel with the club to Lakeland, Fla., for Sunday's Grapefruit League finale against the Tigers, staying behind in Kissimmee to work out. Manager Brad Mills said Lowrie was going to try to swing a bat.
Lowrie hasn't been played or been able to grip a bat since spraining his right thumb Wednesday. Although tests have shown no structural damage, Mills said Lowrie was still sore Sunday and wouldn't be available until Wednesday's exhibition finale at the earliest.
"He was pretty sore today," Mills said. "They were going to have him try to swing a little bit, but it was going to be an interesting day to see how he came along. I doubt if he was able to do too much, because it was sore when he reported. We'll have to wait and see how he is [Monday]."
If the Astros put Lowrie on the disabled list without letting him play in any exhibition games on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, he would only have to miss the first six games of the season. If he plays in one of those games and then goes in the DL, his 15-day clock would begin the next day and eat into his availability to start the year.
"If this guy's not capable of playing in Major League games to start the season, I don't think we want to put him in that game on Wednesday, because we could lose another complete week of the season," Mills said. "That's a huge concern right now as well."
Ruggiano not worried about Astros' decision
LAKELAND, Fla. -- One would think these would be some nerve-wracking days for outfielder Justin Ruggiano, a non-roster player who is battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster. The laid-back Ruggiano, though, isn't thinking too much about what the future holds.
"I've done what I can do," he said. "I started out 0-for-15, and I feel as camp's progressed, I've gotten better, and I feel pretty confident where I'm at. It's not my decision, so it's nothing I can control, so why worry about it? I try to go out there and have fun every day. I get to put on a uniform today and play baseball, and not many people can say they do that. I'm really grateful for that."
Ruggiano, 29, is a career .226 hitter with six homers and 23 RBIs in 98 career games, all with the Rays. The Texas native has spent most of his career in the Minor Leagues, hitting .295 with 103 homers and 474 RBIs in 766 games.
Ruggiano, a right-handed bat, has shown a little pop this spring and has played steady defense. The Astros have a shortage of right-handed-hitting outfielders, which could help Ruggiano's chances.
"I've had some really good at-bats and hit the ball hard and right at people a lot of times," he said. "I'm really happy with the way it's gone. I feel I've put my best foot forward right now. The numbers aren't great, but it's Spring Training, and that's to be expected for some guys."
Astros take 'wait-and-see' approach with Schafer
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Two weeks after injuring his left hand making a diving catch in the outfield, Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer took batting practice prior to Sunday's game against the Tigers, but he wasn't able to see any game action.
Houston manager Brad Mills initially said he wanted Schafer to play a couple of innings in the outfield, but Schafer's hand still isn't responding.
"He's still felt it, I'm going to say quite a bit, when he took BP today," Mills said. "As of right now, we're just going to have to kind of wait and see where we are as we move forward. There's no doubt the anxiousness mounts each day as we move on. It shortens the at-bats he's going to get as the season starts."
Schafer, who had the hand heavily wrapped, said he will try to take batting practice again Monday, when the team is in Corpus Christi for its exhibition.
"They want to give me one more day," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be in there [Monday] and start getting some at-bats. As long as I'm fine in BP, I'll be ready to go."
The Astros will spend their last night in Central Florida on Sunday before taking a charter flight to Corpus Christi, Texas, on Monday morning for that night's 6:05 p.m. CT exhibition game against the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. Manager Brad Mills anticipates splitting the catching duties in three-inning blocks between Jason Castro, Chris Snyder and Landon Powell.