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Hairston's next step is rehab assignment

With another day of batting practice and infield drills behind him, Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston said he'll go on an injury rehabilitation assignment next week before hopefully returning to the active roster in September.

Hairston, who underwent surgery May 23 to repair a fractured bone in his right foot, projected that he would report to a minor league affiliate by next Thursday, but none is home until the next day. Executive vice president Jim Beattie confirmed that Hairston wouldn't begin playing until after the Orioles conclude their series against the Yankees in New York on Monday.

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Double-A Bowie, Single-A Frederick and short-season Single-A Aberdeen all return to their home ballparks Aug. 29. So does Triple-A Ottawa, though the team might spare Hairston the excessive travel.

"You never really know how it feels until you get out in a game," he said.

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Most of the affiliates end their seasons Sept. 1. Aberdeen goes two days longer, which could buy Hairston a little more time before facing major league pitching.

"We'll assess how I feel," he said. "Obviously I want to play, but is there a possibility I might not? Of course there is. But I'm thinking that everything will go well.

"What makes it a whole lot easier is that I don't feel I have to go out there if I'm not ready. Deivi Cruz is playing great, Brian [Roberts] has stepped in and played very well. There's no pressure on me to come back."

Hairston led a group of injured Orioles into the batting cage yesterday, with Beattie, manager Mike Hargrove, hitting coach Terry Crowley and trainer Richie Bancells paying close attention.

David Segui swung from the right side, which had been an issue because of a damaged tendon in his left wrist that will require surgery after the season.

Melvin Mora tested his bruised right hand, putting a few balls into the seats.

He couldn't hit soft tosses last week because of the pain.

Hargrove noted that Mora would have four or five good swings in a row yesterday, then "one would be a little different." Asked whether he would settle for that ratio, Hargrove said, "Not really."

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Segui and Mora are close to being activated. Jeff Conine beat them to the lineup, returning to first base last night against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after missing the past 10 games with bursitis in his right biceps area.

The Orioles went 1-9 without their cleanup hitter. "It's a team thing. I don't think I can come in and turn it around," Conine said before going 2-for-2 with two RBIs and three runs.

"The team as a whole has hit a bad spot. Collectively, we're not swinging the bats real well, we're not pitching real well. I don't know if I was in there hitting real well, if that would have even made a difference. Maybe it would have. There were some real close games."

Hargrove indicated that reliever Omar Daal, on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left rotator cuff, should be activated next month. But he wasn't as certain about outfielder Marty Cordova, who had bone chips removed from his right elbow April 24.

Beattie mum on Hargrove

Beattie remained non-committal yesterday about Hargrove, whose contract expires after the season.

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Approached by reporters during batting practice, Beattie wouldn't address Hargrove's status or put a timetable on any discussions or a decision.

"We'll address it with Mike and we'll talk about it internally before we have anything else to say on it," Beattie said.

Beattie also wouldn't comment on how the last six weeks of the season could affect Hargrove's chances of returning in 2004.

"I really don't have anything else to say on that," he said. "We'll get to it when we get to it."

Hargrove said the uncertainty hasn't been a distraction for him or the club. "It's part of the package right now," he said, "and we've all got to deal with it."

Beattie indicated that there are minimal trade discussions going on as teams prepare to set their playoff rosters by Aug. 31.

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B. Roberts returns

Though he still looked a little queasy, Roberts returned to second base after missing Tuesday's game with flulike symptoms.

Roberts wanted to play in the series opener, but team physician Dr. William Goldiner advised against it.

He made the right call. Roberts became ill while Luis Matos, who moved to the leadoff spot, was batting in the first inning.

"I didn't feel good most of the day, and it kind of progressed and got worse," Roberts said. "I watched the first half-inning while we were in the field, but then I got real sick to my stomach."


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