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07/20/08 2:25 PM ET

Matsui comfortable leading off

Cooper looking for second baseman to set tone for Astros

HOUSTON -- Kazuo Matsui's return to the lineup quickly proved a tall order for the second baseman, who was on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained right hamstring.

Astros manager Cecil Cooper put Matsui at the top of the lineup in Houston's return from the All-Star Break on Friday night vs. the Cubs, and he said he plans to keep him there for a while.

"I was thinking about it before the break, but with him to have four games and then to all of a sudden put him up there and ask him to steal bases was probably not fair to him and definitely not fair to us," Cooper said. "Now he's had a little bit of time, so he should be ready."

Matsui returned from the DL on July 9 after his second injury of the season.

Cooper was wary of overusing Matsui at first, but he said the Japan native assured him he felt fine and was ready to take the leadoff spot.

"Hopefully, he'll steal some bases and get us jump-started," Cooper said. "I think he was actually a little excited about doing it, too. Out of the guys that are playing, he's probably the best guy to do it with the speed to steal bases and all that."

Matsui got his first triple in the second at-bat of Friday's game, and he said he feels comfortable in the top spot.

"Leading off the lineup, it's not my first time to do that," he said through interpreter Yoshitaka Ono. "I'm always ready to play, and I want to play good for the manager's expectations."

Krysten Oliphant is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.