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09/08/12 1:19 AM ET

Astros' young players preparing for future

CINCINNATI -- The Astros have made it clear that they're using the final stretch of the season to evaluate their youth and begin to rebuild for the future.

Houston has certainly had its fair share of struggles this season, but the club also has the youngest active Major League roster, with an average age of 26.2.

The Astros have used 50 different players this season, including 11 rookies, leaving room for their young roster to grow and develop.

"Everyone out here has their own opportunities to prove themselves in the big leagues," said outfielder Justin Maxwell. "I think individually everyone wants to do their best and as a team you want to finish the season on a strong note. The only way to do that is to win some games and go into next Spring Training with the attitude of winning."

Maxwell is one of the many players benefiting from the increased playing time, seeing action in 101 games this season and batting .228 with 13 homers and 39 RBIs entering Friday.

The most the four-year veteran had played prior to 2012 was in 2010 with the Nationals, when he played in 67 games.

Maxwell despite the challenges the club has faced this season, the experience the young players are taking will pay off in the future.

"This is the most at-bats I've had and the longest I've stayed without being optioned or recalled, so I'm really grateful to the Astros organization for the opportunity to play here," Maxwell said. "You only learn through experience, so if everyone can take it positively even though we've been struggling as a team, we're going to be better next year."

Downs starts at third with Laird out of lineup

CINCINNATI -- The Astros already short depth at third base became even thinner Friday.

The club discovered that Brandon Laird came down with an illness, suffering from flu-like symptoms, pushing Matt Downs into the starting spot at the hot corner.

Matt Dominguez, who is nursing his wrist injury, still isn't ready to go. Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco said Dominguez may be available late in the game if he got through batting practice without any issues.

Backup Scott Moore, who strained his left groin in Wednesday's loss to the Pirates, is "a few days away," and Laird's sickness makes a trifecta of problems for the Houston infield.

The Astros are going to keep an eye on Laird as he recovers from the sickness, and are taking precautions to ensure he doesn't spread the illness throughout the clubhouse.

"Laird was definitely in the lounge down there sleeping and resting," DeFrancesco said. "Away from everybody."

Downs has played in 16 games at third base this season, and Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco said the club is confident in his abilities.

"We found out we've got a few injuries at third base today," DeFrancesco said. "We've got Downs today, so we're OK. Downs is a good infielder. The ballpark, I heard, is hitter-friendly, and hopefully we get some in those power alleys and get a few homers."

Downs is hitting .204 with seven homers and 14 RBIs in 162 at-bats this season.

Lowrie's rehab may be cut short if Hooks' season ends

CINCINNATI -- Jed Lowrie's return to Houston may be just around the corner.

Lowrie, who has been out since the middle of July with a nerve injury in his right leg, is set to begin his rehab stint Friday with double-A Corpus Christi, filling in as the designated hitter.

It would be Lowrie's first action since the injury, but his assignment may not last very long. Entering Friday, the Hooks were down 0-2 in the playoffs, and their season would end with another loss.

"We're hoping Corpus wins [Friday] and hopefully they get through Sunday and give Jed some reps in the field," said Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco. "He'd be a great addition to our infield here, especially [since Tyler] Greene's been going every day. He could use a day off. Jed gives you a professional bat. It's a bat we're looking forward to having."

If Corpus Christi does continue to win, DeFrancesco said the plan is for Lowrie to play five innings in the field Saturday. The club said no definite plan was in place if Corpus Christi is eliminated early.

"[Lowrie's return] is a very positive thing for us going into this final month," DeFrancesco said. "We're just hoping they'll make it through Sunday and if not, the Lancaster team is still in the playoffs. I'm not sure what the plan is after that."

Worth noting

• Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco said closer Francisco Cordero was shut down for the rest of the season. Cordero was put on the disabled list with a toe injury, but it's his right shoulder problems that are the main cause of concern.

"I think he got shut down yesterday, so we'll see," DeFrancesco said. "Toe is good, shoulder bad."

• This weekend's three-game stint is the Astros final trip to Cincinnati this season.

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