HOUSTON -- First baseman Yonder Alonso was back in the fifth spot of the order for Wednesday's game against the Astros after not starting the last three games with a sore knee.

Manager Bud Black said it was good to see Alonso in the lineup. He singled in his first at-bat.

"He's a rookie player trying to establish himself in this league," Black said. "He wants to be out there. He wants to play. This guy has been a guy who plays every day."

Alonso made his 66th start of the season on Wednesday in the Padres' 76th game. He pinch-hit in Tuesday's game, striking out in his only at-bat in the ninth inning.

Entering Wednesday, Alonso was batting .253 with two homers and 18 RBIs. After a solid May, he struggled a little in his first 21 games in June, hitting .181 with 15 strikeouts and three walks.

Cashner ready to showcase stuff in starting role

HOUSTON -- Andrew Cashner will get a chance to show how his transformation from reliever to starter is going in Thursday's finale against the Astros.

After one 2 1/3-inning start on June 9, the Padres sent Cashner to Double-A San Antonio on June 10 to get more work in. In three starts and 14 1/3 innings with San Antonio, Cashner went 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA. He struck out 22 and walked three. In his last start, a six-inning outing on June 23, Cashner allowed three hits while striking out 10 and walking three on 94 pitches.

The team needs to make a roster move before Thursday's game to open space on the 25-man roster for Cashner.

He said going down to San Antonio allowed him to focus on some smaller things that might matter more as a starter, like controlling the running game, in lower-stress situations.

"When you have to deal with six, seven innings with guys running, you know you really have to make a point to control that and get your times down and get your catcher a chance, or it's going to be long game," Cashner said.

The right-hander also worked on his fastball command, as well as his hitting. He took some batting practice before Wednesday's game at Minute Maid Park, mostly focusing on bunting.

"I'm still struggling there," Cashner said. "It'll get there, though."

Manager Bud Black said the purpose of sending the 25-year-old to the Minors for three starts was to help him build arm strength and adjust to the off-day work that starters do: running, conditioning and side sessions.

"We all feel as though he's in the right spot physically and mentally to start a Major League game, and feel confident throwing 100 pitches or more," Black said.

After coming over to San Diego from the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo trade in January, Cashner pitched 28 1/3 innings in 28 appearances out of the bullpen, posting a 3-3 record and a 3.81 ERA.

Cashner said he was surprised to be moved to a starting role so soon after being told in Spring Training that he would probably work solely as a reliever in 2012. Black said if things go well for Cashner, he could continue to make starts for the rest of the season.

Born and raised just 40 miles from Houston, Cashner said he will have lots of family and friends at Minute Maid for Thursday's game. He went to Texas Christian University after graduating from Conroe High School.

"It's exciting," Cashner said. "I've got a lot of friends that haven't ever got to see me pitch."

Worth noting

• The Padres ask that fans wanting to donate flowers to the remembrance of bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds instead make donations to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Akerfelds passed away on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

• Kip Wells was the Padres' 13th starter of the season on Tuesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Padres are just the fourth team in baseball history to use at least 13 starting pitchers in the first 75 games of the season. The 1965 Mets, '89 Mariners and '92 Phillies also used 13 in their first 75 games.

• San Diego is 1-36 this season when trailing after six innings.