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06/19/08 1:36 PM ET

Hopper happy to be back

Outfielder returns to Reds after long stint on the DL

CINCINNATI -- Norris Hopper never expected to be out so long.

The Reds outfielder returned from the disabled list Wednesday. A nerve irritation in his right elbow had him out since April 23. A cortisone shot didn't work, and he was unable to throw for several weeks.

"It was just inflammation in there. It just flamed up on me," Hopper said. "The medical staff did a great job getting me back healthy and ready to play."

Hopper was a late replacement in Wednesday's game vs. the Dodgers and got a single in two plate appearances. He started in center field and led off Thursday afternoon's game against Los Angeles.

"It's about that time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's been out a long time. We haven't had Hop since April. He's a good outfielder. He can play all three positions. He played well for this team last year. He hit well. He's a guy that's paid his dues. He's glad to be back and we're glad to have him back."

Last season, Hopper stepped in for an injured Ryan Freel and batted .329 in 121 games. He came into Thursday batting .269 in 16 games this year.

Since Hopper got hurt, the Reds promoted Jay Bruce to be the regular center fielder and Freel partially tore his right hamstring. Bruce moved to right field again Thursday, with Ken Griffey Jr. still battling the flu.

Since Jerry Hairston Jr. went down with a fractured left thumb on June 9, the Reds have lacked a consistent leadoff hitter. Hopper could fill that void when he gets to play. Last season, he had 37 infield hits, including 17 bunt singles.

"I know my job," Hopper said. "I'm the fourth outfielder. I don't start here. I know that. Hopefully, I can get worked in there, it'd be great. But I know my position. I can give guys days off and get a start here and there."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.