HOUSTON -- Astros second baseman Jose Altuve entered play Monday ranked third in the National League in batting average at .373, trailing only Matt Kemp of the Dodgers (.425) and David Wright of the Mets (.397). For Altuve, seeing his name mentioned among the league's best is an honor.

"It means a lot because those two guys in front of me, they're superstars," he said. "I used to watch those guys on TV and now I'm competing with them in hitting, and I think it's something really good."

Astros manager Brad Mills said he's not surprised at Altuve's output.

"We've always felt he's mature beyond his years and that probably comes from playing so much ball in Venezuela," he said. "You're in a situation you're seeing him make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat and pitcher to pitcher as relievers come into the game, and that's been really impressive."

J.D. Martinez, who came up with Altuve through the Minor Leagues and made the jump with him to the Majors from Double-A last year, says the 5-foot-5 Altuve is gaining respect.

"It's funny because I'll be in the on-deck circle and you'll hear guys chirping in the background and giving him a hard time and then he gets a hit and I'll start laughing," he said. "It's fun to watch."

Lee says he's ready to return to action

HOUSTON -- Carlos Lee, who hasn't played since spraining his left ankle while playing defense on Friday in Cincinnati, proclaimed himself ready to play after fielding grounders during batting practice prior to Monday's game. Matt Downs started at first Monday against the Mets.

"It's a lot better," Lee said. "I hit some balls off the tee and hit some flips. It's not going to go away overnight. It's getting better."

Lee has been pretty much an ironman for the Astros, with the exception of missing the final six weeks of the 2008 season after an errant pitch broke his pinkie. He's averaged 159 games in four of his first five seasons in Houston.

Lee was starting to heat up at the plate before getting hurt, batting .462 in three games prior to Friday. He also is hitting .391 with runners in scoring position this year.

"I'm getting treatment quite a few times a day and doing everything I can to possibly try to get back," he said.

Meanwhile, relief pitcher Rhiner Cruz, who's dealing with a sprained ankle, was hopeful to be available Monday.

"My arm is hungry," he said.

Cruz said he'd like to face the Mets, the organization in which he played for five seasons.

Gonzalez returns from paternity leave

HOUSTON -- Marwin Gonzalez rejoined the Astros on Monday in Houston after being away for three days for the birth of his first child, a daughter named Aliana. Gonzalez became the second Astros player to take advantage of the three-day paternity leave that baseball instituted last year.

"It's something that's amazing being my first time," he said. "I don't have any words for it."

Gonzalez, a Rule 5 Draft pick, admitted when he was flying to Houston last week while the team was in Cincinnati he didn't think becoming a father would impact him quite the way it did.

"I used to say it was going to be like a normal day," he said. "I was on the plane on my way here and I was expecting a normal day. When I saw her and I carried her, it was amazing. It was a very special day."

Astros infielder Matt Downs was the first Astros player to be placed on paternity leave last season.

Worth noting

Richard Hidalgo, who hit 134 home runs in eight years in Houston and was named the Astros' Most Valuable Player in 2003, returned to Minute Maid Park on Monday and threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game against the Mets.

"I'm just so happy about that," he said. "I'm just excited to be here and now that I'm going to throw out the first pitch, I'm pretty happy."