SEA@HOU: Sipp scoreless in his Astros' debut

HOUSTON -- One Astros reliever truly took the long road to the Major Leagues this season. In fact, it was nothing but the road.

Tony Sipp was part of the Padres' organization before signing with the Astros on May 1, and he spent the entire first month of the season on the road with the El Paso Chihuahuas because their stadium wasn't ready.

Prior to that, the lefty was in Padres camp for Spring Training, so he's been living out of suitcases for three months now.

"It built up a lot of character and camaraderie with the guys you're on the road with," Sipp said. "It's a day-to-day grind. From different odds and ends and difficulties you never expect, like running out of boxers or having a roommate and maybe getting to know guys a little more than you even want.

"It wasn't as bad looking back, but going through it gets frustrating, especially when you feel like you're playing better baseball than the level you're at. Finally getting a chance to be back in the bigs is a blessing and a load off my back."

Sipp said frustration with El Paso's early struggles and a belief that he deserved a true shot at a big league chance spurred him to ask for a release from the Padres. He was close to signing with the Braves' Triple-A squad in Gwinnett, but the Astros came calling.

The reliever impressed in his debut, retiring all five batters he faced in Friday's 5-4 victory over Seattle. Sipp's mother and stepdad made a seven-hour drive from Mississippi to watch him settle in with his latest team, where Sipp hopes he can stick.

"It started off the best way possible, especially seeing the relief on my mom's face," Sipp said. "Hopefully, I get to stay in one place for a bit."

Unfortunately for Sipp, the Astros play their next six games and 16 of the next 22 on the road.

Feldman targets Friday after simulated game

HOU@TEX: Feldman throws seven shutout frames

HOUSTON -- The long wait could soon be over for Scott Feldman.

The Astros ace tossed a four-inning, 60-pitch simulated game before Sunday's game against the Mariners and said he expects to make his return from a shoulder injury on Friday, when Houston plays at Baltimore.

"I think Friday, but that's not 100 percent," Feldman said. "Have to wait for the team to say for sure."

Feldman looked crisp with manager Bo Porter looking on and pitching coach Brent Strom conducting the game behind the mound. Porter said he was pleased with Feldman's ability to use all of his pitches.

"Very happy, it was good to see Scott get on the mound," Porter said. "He came through with no problems. We're in a good position moving forward."

Porter wasn't quite ready to pencil Feldman in for Friday just yet, saying the team will wait to see how Feldman responds to his first action resembling game speed since his last start on April 17. The veteran was technically eligible to return from the disabled list on Saturday, but he hadn't progressed fast enough to meet that date.

Feldman said his arm held up fine and there was no immediate soreness.

"Felt nothing in my shoulder at all," the right-hander said. "I think the treatment has been working and I'm ready to get out there. Being on the DL is not the way to go. It's pretty boring."

As for Feldman's stuff? Marc Krauss and L.J. Hoes were routinely baffled by some of Feldman's offspeed stuff, including a changeup that Hoes could only marvel at.

"That [pitch] was an out-of-body experience," Hoes quipped on the way back to the dugout.

Astros recall lefty Downs, designate Valdes

Downs on getting hit with a line drive in 2009

HOUSTON -- The Astros called up experienced lefty Darin Downs from Triple-A Oklahoma City and designated reliever Raul Valdes, the team announced on Sunday.

Valdes was with the big league club for barely a fortnight, only throwing 3 2/3 innings over eight appearances since joining the team on April 17.

Downs takes his place as the second southpaw in the Houston 'pen, which has the highest cumulative ERA in the Majors. The Astros are hoping Downs' experience with the Tigers, whom he threw 56 innings for with an ERA just over 4.00, will shore up some late-game situations.

"We felt like, one, his breaking ball plays well at this level and two, he has great platoon splits as far as left-on-left matchups," said Astros manager Bo Porter.

Downs wasn't overly impressive with the RedHawks this season, compiling a 5.54 ERA in 13 innings. But he does have the ability to throw multiple innings, a distinct need for a Houston relief corps low on lefties.

"He's a guy who can give us extended innings down there and still be able to come in at specialized situations for outs," Porter.

Valdes didn't record an out in two of his eight outings and earned a save to go along with a blown save and a hold. The 36-year-old finished his latest stint in the big leagues with a 12.27 ERA and a WHIP well over 2.00.

Worth noting

• The Astros trotted out an unfamiliar lineup on Sunday, with George Springer hitting in the No. 6 hole for the first time after he sat out Saturday's game.

"I wanted to get him to a spot where he didn't feel the pressure of carrying a ball club," Porter said. "That was never the intention. Once he takes off, that's a spot where we could leave him."

• Reliever Matt Albers threw a bullpen session of approximately 20 pitches prior to Sunday's game, as he nears a hopeful return from the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. Albers last pitched on April 21 and had an 0.90 ERA in 10 innings of work.

"It felt good today, went well," Albers said. "Very encouraged by that. Feeling like everything's acting well and I'm not too far away."