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09/21/12 7:21 PM ET

'Itching' to play, shortstop Cozart back in lineup

CINCINNATI -- Reds shortstop Zack Cozart returned to the starting lineup Friday after missing 14 games with a strained left oblique muscle.

Cozart, who had been out of action since Sept. 4, said he was hitting "aggressively" the past three days and felt good after his batting-practice sessions.

"I'm itching to play and I told [acting manager Chris Speier] I feel good," Cozart said. "He came and watched me hit [Thursday] in the cage. He saw me letting it loose, then taking a little break and then hitting again and everything felt good. I'm excited."

Speier said Cozart felt good enough to play Thursday, but with a safe cushion in the National League Central, he wanted to give the rookie shortstop an extra day for precaution.

"He's been after me about, 'When am I going to get out there? When am I going to play?'" Speier said. "I got the OK from doc that he was ready. I know he was ready [Thursday] and he said, 'If you need me, I'm available.' But I wanted to give him one more day and let him get back here to the home turf. We'll watch him, monitor him and make sure he's OK."

Without the luxury of a rehab stint, Cozart is using the final stretch of the season to get back to game speed as the Reds approach the playoffs.

"For me to get back in there and get my feet wet is important," Cozart said. "I'm using these next 13 games or so to get ready for the postseason. Not so much on results, but just getting back in the swing of things."

Chapman on verge of returning to action for Reds

CINCINNATI -- There's still no certainty on when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman may become available again, but a return could be just around the corner.

Pitching coach Bryan Price said Chapman threw mini sessions both in Chicago and before Friday's game in Cincinnati and was feeling better. But the final decision still lies in the hands of manager Dusty Baker, who remained in a Chicago hospital for treatment for an irregular heartbeat.

"He's felt good. Chappy feels good to go," Price said of the lefty, who hasn't appeared in a game since Sept. 10 due to shoulder fatigue. "This is Dusty's team, he has to make the decisions on who he would consider using and not using. I'm going to talk with Dusty first before we move forward."

Price said Chapman's availability Friday was a "wait and see" situation and planned on talking to both Baker, team medical director Timothy Kremchek and acting manager Chris Speier before coming to a final conclusion.

"If he's available, and there's an opportunity to use him, I'm not going to hesitate," Speier said. "I don't know what role that I would put him in the first time back. It'd be good to get him back out on the mound and I'm sure he's champing at the bit to do that."

Price said if Chapman does not pitch Friday, he'll more than likely be available Saturday.

Worth noting

• Left fielder Ryan Ludwick was left out of the Reds' lineup for the second straight day to give him an extra day of rest after feeling tightness in his groin while running the bases in the fifth inning of Wednesday's game in Chicago.

"He's OK. We're in a very advantageous position to allow our guys to take an extra day of rest just to make sure they don't reinjure something," acting manager Chris Speier said. "We're in a pretty good position."

• The Reds announced Friday that they have signed a four-year extension of their player development contract with the Class A Dayton Dragons, guaranteeing the affiliation through the 2016 season.

The Dragons have served as the Reds' Midwest League affiliate since 2000, when the Minor League franchise was established.

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