HOUSTON -- When relief pitcher Francisco Cordero returned to the clubhouse Tuesday, his locker was decorated with American flags and he found a cake at his locker with the Stars and Stripes on the front. It was a gesture from his teammates for Cordero passing the exam to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Cordero, who was born in the Dominican Republic, took the final step towards gaining his citizenship Monday in Miami and is now awaiting a date to get sworn in as a U.S. citizen. For Cordero, it's a huge step in his life.

"I've always been blessed with being in the big leagues for so long and having a good career, and this next step makes me happier," he said. "I'm so glad that I did it and I'm happy about it. My family and everyone and all my friends and teammates were happy for me. It's real nice, and I feel good about it."

Cordero, who's on the disabled list with a sprained toe ligament in his right foot, said he passed the test in 15 minutes, going 6-for-6 in the written part of the exam.

"I was prepared," he said. "I was studying my book for many, many months since Spring Training. I went in and went 6-for-6. It's good when you go 6-for-6 in anything."

Seeing his locker decorated in red, white and blue by his teammates was something Cordero didn't expect.

"It made me feel really good, even though I'm on a new team," he said. "There are some good guys over here, good teammates, and once I walked in the clubhouse and saw that, it made me feel good. I took a picture with the cake and sent it down to the Dominican. They all thought it was nice."

Cordero's youngest son was born in Cincinnati in 2008, but he hopes becoming a U.S. citizen helps pave the way for his older son to get his citizenship one day.

Luhnow aims to increase relations with Mexico

HOUSTON -- If Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has his way, his club could soon be playing some exhibition games south of the border.

Luhnow, who was born and raised in Mexico City, returned Wednesday from a weeklong trip to his native country, where he met with U.S. ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne to discuss strengthening the flow of information and players between Mexico and the Astros.

Among the items discussed was the possibility of the Astros playing a Spring Training game in Mexico City, which the club did in 2004, with hopes of eventually having a regular-season series in Mexico City or Monterrey or both. Luhnow said there have been preliminary discussions about it with Major League Baseball, but a Spring Training game in Mexico couldn't be played in 2013 because of the World Baseball Classic.

"We have to work through a lot of issues," Luhnow said. "That would be a good outcome and it would increase fan interest in baseball abroad and the Astros specifically."

Luhnow said he and Wayne discussed ways for the Astros to get more involved in the Mexican community, and he said he the team's winter caravan could once again make a trip to Mexico like it had done in the past. Luhnow said baseball in Mexico is an untapped resource.

"There's a lot of talent that chooses to stay in Mexico instead of signing with U.S. clubs for various reasons," Luhnow said. "Major League Baseball has set up a task force to try and figure out how to address Mexico, in light of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I've been assigned to this task force. ... The idea would be to figure how we could increase the flow of players from Mexico to the United States."

Astros look to turn around fortunes in extra innings

HOUSTON -- With their second extra-innings loss in as many days on Tuesday night, the 2012 Astros joined the 1969 Expos in baseball infamy.

No other teams have ever started a season with an 0-11 record in extra-innings games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Astros manager Brad Mills knows his team needs to perform better in extras. The Astros haven't scored a run beyond the ninth inning this season.

"I don't think it's all fluke," Mills said.

On Monday, the Astros lost to the Nationals after poorly handling a sacrifice-bunt attempt in the 11th inning. Nationals center fielder Roger Bernadina made a highlight-reel catch to crush the Astros' 12th-inning walk-off bid on Tuesday.

"We're hoping some of that random happenings start heading our way a little bit," Mills said. "I've always been a firm believer that the way you play -- the at-bats you have, the pitches you make, the way you play the game -- you allow those random happenings to start moving your direction."

The Astros don't have a walk-off victory this season.

Pearce confident hitting third in lineup

HOUSTON -- In the first five years of Steve Pearce's Major League career, he had never batted third in a lineup. Since joining the Astros on July 28, Pearce has batted in the three hole three times.

That's where Pearce sat in the lineup for Wednesday night's game against the Nationals.

While the 29-year-old corner infielder may not have much Major League experience in the three hole, he said he came up through the Minor Leagues hitting third or fourth in the lineup.

"I'm comfortable there," Pearce said. "I'm not scared of the three hole."

Pearce tries to show more discipline when he hits third.

"You're not going to get the 2-0, 3-1 fastballs very often," Pearce said. "You just have to work the count, get your pitch and try to make the pitcher work."

Manager Brad Mills said the team will experiment with the third spot and the full lineup over the next few weeks. He put Pearce in the third position on Wednesday because of his plate discipline and ability to drive the ball, among other reasons.

"We want a guy that really puts good at-bats together," Mills said.

Fourteen Astros have batted third in the lineup this season, led by J.D. Martinez's 31 starts in the position. Batters in the third slot are batting .227/.308/.434 on the season, entering Wednesday.

Worth noting

Catcher Jason Castro, on a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City, was set to catch seven innings on Wednesday before an off-day Thursday. The team plans to have Castro catch nine innings in two games this weekend.

General manager Jeff Luhnow said the team expects to activate Castro sometime in the second half of August. If all goes well, Castro could join the Astros in Chicago in the early part of next week.