ARLINGTON -- Carlos Lee was back in his typical No. 4 spot in the batting order Sunday afternoon against the Rangers in his first game since being activated from the 15-day disabled list. Lee, who started at designated hitter, missed 13 games with a strained hamstring.
"It feels pretty good to be back," Lee said. "It's just one part of the game you can't control. Nobody wants to get hurt, but stuff happens and hopefully we work it out and now I'm back on the team."
Lee hit safely in 16 of 20 games prior to going on the disabled list and smacked a line-drive single to center field in his first at-bat Sunday. He was hitting .341 in his 20 games prior to going on the disabled list.
Lee is also the toughest player to strike out in the Major Leagues, entering Sunday with only 10 strikeouts in 207 plate appearances. His return is a welcome sight for an Astros team that has been striking out at an alarming late this month. Houston entered Sunday tied for the National League lead in strikeouts.
"All I can do is help and do my part and maybe they can see better pitches," he said. "Hopefully we can get more people on base. Whatever I can do to help, that's why I'm here."
Sprained knee sends Norris to 15-day DL
ARLINGTON -- As expected, the Astros placed right-hander Bud Norris on the 15-day disabled list Sunday afternoon with a sprained left knee. The move is retroactive to June 12.
Norris, who is 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 13 starts, sprained his knee pitching against the Giants on Tuesday in San Francisco. He was scheduled to start Sunday against the Rangers, but the Astros called up left-hander Dallas Keuchel from Triple-A Oklahoma City to make his Major League debut.
"I'm frustrated," Norris said. "Nobody wants to go on the DL, but I know I need to get this thing right, because once I get it right I can pitch the way I was capable of pitching the first 10, 15 starts."
Norris, 27, injured his hip flexor May 31 against the Rockies and wasn't the same. He was 5-1 with a 3.34 ERA in his first 10 starts of the season but was 0-3 with a 13.09 ERA in his next three starts as he dealt with leg problems.
"I've been trying to go out there and pitch at 80 percent and unfortunately I haven't been helping the team much," Norris said. "It's frustrating in that regard. I want to be out there every fifth day, but I understand that short term is more important than the long term and I have a whole second half to put it together to come back from this thing. I'm hoping it doesn't take a long time."
Astros manager Brad Mills said he didn't want Norris to try to pitch through any discomfort.
"It's something that we want to make sure he's 100 percent when he comes back and that he's not tentative when he's putting weight on it," he said. "We'll get him back going as soon as we can and hopefully we can get him 100 percent."
This is the second career trip to the DL for Norris, who went on the shelf in 2010 with biceps tendinitis.
"You're going to through some things, some bumps and bruises, where you're going to have to go out there and pitch," Norris said. "I definitely gave it everything I had and it didn't go my way. I have to give my knee some time, the whole leg some time. I have 15 days to do it. I'm feeling a little bit better, and day in and day out I have to get treatment to get me back out on the field."
Astros nearing deal with Draft pick McCullers
ARLINGTON -- Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., taken with the No. 41 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft by the Astros, is reportedly close to signing a deal with Houston.
The Tampa Bay Times reported on its website that McCullers was flying to Houston on Sunday and would take a physical on Monday morning. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wouldn't confirm the report, but he said last week he hoped to sign McCullers soon.
McCullers, who has a scholarship offer from Florida, went 13-0 with a 0.18 ERA with 140 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings during his senior season at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Fla. He's the son of former Major League pitcher Lance McCullers.
The Astros signed No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa last week for a signing bonus of $4.8 million, below Major League Baseball's prescribed $7.2 million bonus value. McCullers' bonus value is $1.258, but the Astros will likely use the money they saved on Correa to sign McCullers, who's considered a first-round talent.
Buck to start rehab assignment on Monday
ARLINGTON -- Astros outfielder Travis Buck will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Monday with Double-A Corpus Christi in San Antonio. He's slated to play five innings.
Buck, who's been out since May 29 with Achilles tendinitis, said he's ready to test his ankle in a game situation.
Buck has done basically everything he can without getting into a game. He's been taking batting practice for days and he ran the bases on Saturday.
"It's just a matter of seeing how I feel after I go play," Buck said. "I've done a lot of treatment and I can still feel it a little bit. Hopefully I'll be fine when I play and it responds well. That's the only thing I have left to go."
Buck is hitting .216 in 74 at-bats in his first year with the Astros, but he's hitting .538 (7-for-13) as a pinch-hitter, which is the best batting average in the Majors of players who have at least 10 pinch-hit at-bats. He wants to get as many at-bats as he can on his rehab assignment.
"It's a matter of seeing pitches," he said. "I want to get as many at-bats as I can because I want to come up and contribute right away. The timeframe hasn't been discussed, but I'm ready for it."