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09/23/10 9:50 PM ET

Astros attend prospect Loux's bullpen session

HOUSTON -- For the second time in a week, Arizona Diamondbacks first-round pick Barret Loux, who was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, threw for a handful of scouts on Thursday afternoon in College Station, Texas.

The Astros, Marlins, Rangers, Cubs, Twins, Giants, Brewers, Phillies and Mariners were on hand to watch the right-hander throw between 50 and 60 pitches for about 25 minutes. They are among the teams interested in signing Loux, who was drafted by Arizona before reportedly failing a physical.

"Things went about the same, similar velocity on the fastball and breaking pitches," Loux said in an e-mail to MLB.com. "[I] found myself breaking my hands later than I should so control wasn't quite as good as normal, but overall a decent bullpen [session]."

Astros area scout Rusty Pendergrass and Midwest supervisor Ralph Bratton were on hand, representing the Astros, according to KRIV-TV in Houston.

Loux was drafted No. 6 overall and reportedly failed a physical because of arm problems. Major League Baseball declared Loux a free agent and available to sign with any club beginning Sept. 1, awarding Arizona compensatory Draft picks. The Astros had interest in the Houston-area product before he was picked by Arizona.

Loux, who went 11-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 16 starts last season as a junior at Texas A&M, last week threw for about 25 minutes at his college, where he's finishing up his degree.

Pain-free Pence returns to Astros' lineup

WASHINGTON -- Hunter Pence returned to the lineup in Thursday's 7-2 loss after missing almost two days with a strained right hip flexor.

Pence went 2-for-4 in the third slot of the order. He drove in a run with a fifth-inning infield single that gave Houston a brief 2-1 lead. Pence also added a single in the seventh.

He came out in the first inning of Tuesday's 8-4 loss after feeling pain while running to first base. But Pence rested and got treatment since the strain happened and is back in action.

"He's 100 percent, if you could be 105 percent, he would have told me that today," said Astros manager Brad Mills. "He came out and ran, and tried to re-create everything that he would do on a field. There was ... no pain that he could re-create, so he's fine."

Before the lineup was posted, Pence said he was ready to go if Mills wanted him.

"I'm feeling better," Pence said. "I'm available today."

Pence already has set a new career high for RBIs (86). His previous best was 83 in 2008. In addition, Pence leads the Major Leagues with 41 outfield assists since '08.

Bourn remains out with strained right oblique

WASHINGTON -- Michael Bourn remained out of the lineup in Thursday's 7-2 loss, and manager Brad Mills said the outfielder's recovery is turning out to be a very slow process.

Bourn was out for a fourth consecutive game due to a strained right oblique muscle. Mills said he's not sure when Bourn can return.

"He's getting better, but it's in increments," Mills said. "[It's] in very slow increments. It's going to be tough."

Mills said there could be a slight chance that Bourn won't return this season. They'll be checking Bourn out on a daily basis to see what his situation is and decide what to do from there.

The loss of Bourn hurts a Houston lineup that's already been challenged all season. The Astros rank next-to-last in the National League with a .248 team batting average -- ahead of only Pittsburgh at .240.

Bourn has been a spark throughout the season. He's got a .265 average and has reached base safely by a hit or walk in 27 consecutive games.

In addition, Bourn leads the National League with 52 steals and 38 infield hits. He's also tied for second with 10 hits.

Mills to stick with rotation through season's end

WASHINGTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills said, as of now, he doesn't expect any major changes in his five-man starting rotation in the season's final 10 days.

Mills said the team hasn't had any real discussions yet about changing the rotation or putting in some of the younger players to make a start in closing days, which is fine with him.

He said that, the way he came up through the game, you simply played until the season ended. That's a big reason why the skipper feels good that his starting pitchers haven't asked to be pulled out.

"Right now, everybody really wants to pitch, which is nice," Mills said. "Those guys all want to pitch, they all want their turn in the rotation."

This could change, depending on other factors, but for now everything is set to stay the same.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter and Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.