HOUSTON -- As the Houston Astros continued their offensive struggles on Tuesday night, one foundation piece of their lineup took a significant step toward a much-awaited return.
All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa participated in batting practice for the first time since landing on the 10-day disabled list on July 18.
The Tuesday fill-in at shortstop, Marwin Gonzalez, struck out in all three at-bats as the Astros lost 4-3 to the Washington Nationals in the opener of a three-game series. The teams meet again Wednesday at Minute Maid Park.
Sidelined following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, Correa took ground balls earlier on Tuesday, then hit in the underground cage before joining his teammates on the field.
The initial prognosis for his return was six- to eight-week absence. He has been out five weeks.
"I'm very happy with the way things are going," Correa said. "Hopefully I can be back in there soon."
Correa had a slash line of .320/.400/.566 with 20 home runs and 67 RBI before his injury. The Astros (76-49) are now 14-18 without Correa, who hopes to be sent out on a rehab assignment soon with the plan of recording 20 to 30 at-bats during a week-long stint.
For a club wobbling toward September, the sight of Correa on the field was a boost.
"We're weeks ahead of schedule and feeling really good," Correa said. "The doctor was impressed when he saw me on Saturday. I'm really excited with everything, and hopefully I can do my rehab assignment soon."
Right-hander Mike Fiers (7-8, 4.32 ERA) will attempt to square the series for the Astros. Fiers in 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA over four career games (including two starts) against the Nationals.
Right-hander Edwin Jackson (4-2, 3.43 ERA) will start for the Nationals. It will be his first appearance against the Astros since Aug. 6, 2012, a 5-4 Washington victory. Jackson is 2-1 with a 4.37 ERA over seven career appearances (six starts) vs. Houston.
Like the Astros with Correa, the Nationals are on rehab watch, with left fielder Jayson Werth (left foot fracture) and shortstop Trea Turner (left wrist fracture) beginning stints with Triple-A Syracuse on Monday. Both had been working out at the team's spring training facilities in West Palm Beach, Fla., before beginning their rehab assignments.
Through two games for Syracuse, Werth is 2-for-6 and Turner is 0-for-6.
Werth posted a .262/.367/.446 line with eight homers and 18 RBI over 196 plate appearances before landing on the disabled list on June 5. Turner was batting .279/.324/.422 with seven homers and 32 RBI before joining Werth on the DL on June 30.
Unlike the Astros, the Nationals (75-48) have continued to roll without several starters, moving to a season-high 27 games over .500 with their win on Tuesday night.
"I hope when they come back that we don't have to rush them," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "I hope there's time for them to get sharp and to be the same Jayson and Turner when they left. And if they are, then that's like getting fresh bodies, fresh bodies that aren't banged up."