LOS ANGELES -- Shortstop Rafael Furcal reported improvement in his sore back and pitcher Jason Schmidt's bullpen session went without incident before the Dodgers' game on Wednesday with the Mets.

Furcal missed his second consecutive start, but said with Thursday's scheduled off-day that he anticipated returning to the lineup for Friday night's series opener with the Astros. Furcal missed the last 12 games of last season with lower back spasms, but this injury is said to be in a different area and not considered by club officials as serious.

With Furcal out of the lineup, Chin-lung Hu started at shortstop again in a lineup that also did not include struggling center fielder Andruw Jones. Andre Ethier started in right field, Matt Kemp moved to center and Jeff Kent, originally scheduled to get the day off, started at second base. Torrid Juan Pierre (.458 in his last six games) led off.

Schmidt, whose session was delayed one day because he was requiring more time to rebound, threw 36 pitches, half of his last bullpen session on Friday in Colorado. He threw all of his pitches and trainer Stan Conte, who watched the session with assistant general manager DeJon Watson, said there were no indications of any physical problems.

Manager Joe Torre said Schmidt is scheduled to take the next step on Sunday in "something game-related," either the launching of a Minor League rehabilitation assignment or a simulated game at Dodger Stadium.

Torre said that once Schmidt's Minor League assignment starts, it is likely to continue for the maximum 30 days because of the severity of Schmidt's shoulder injury, which required surgical repair to three areas of the shoulder.