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08/14/08 7:22 PM ET

Hairston to return to Reds lineup soon

Utility man could start as soon as Friday vs. Cardinals

PITTSBURGH -- Jerry Hairston Jr. has been itching to see his name on a lineup card. That itch might finally be scratched as early as Friday.

Hairston hasn't started a game for the Reds since he came off the disabled list on Aug. 1 and reaggravated a sore right hamstring. He's been limited to just two pinch-hit plate appearances since, including one in the eighth inning on Wednesday vs. the Pirates in which he hit a single and ran the bases without incident.

"He's close, real close. He'll probably see action in the St. Louis series," manager Dusty Baker said. "That at-bat was to see how he was running, and he slid. It was also to get him an at-bat."

Baker later added that the start would probably be on Friday vs. the Cardinals, most likely in left field or shortstop.

That sounded fine with Hairston, who plays both the infield and outfield.

"I felt pretty good. Coming off the bench, I passed a pretty good test," Hairston said. "When you're not starting, you have to get warmed up and be ready to go. Hopefully, I'll be ready to go tomorrow."

This season, Hairston is batting .347 with two home runs, 22 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. The Reds are 28-18 in games that he starts, but he's been injured much of the second half. His DL stint for the hamstring injury lasted from July 14-31.

There were questions about why Hairston wasn't put back on the DL after his setback so the Reds wouldn't play shorthanded.

"With a hamstring, it's kind of hard to gauge," Hairston said. "It could be ready in three days or it could be five, seven or 10. It's not as bad as when I did it. Going on the DL was really decided as not the best option. I could still come off the bench and hit. It's been tough. It really has. It's something than when you're not in the lineup and can't contribute when you're not healthy, that's tough to swallow."

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