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Hernandez's return could come Friday

The Baltimore Sun

St. Petersburg, Fla. -- Catcher Ramon Hernandez rejoined his teammates at Tropicana Field yesterday and got through batting practice with no setbacks to his strained left oblique muscle. However, it appears he'll return to the Orioles' lineup Friday at the earliest.

"I'm guessing the same thing," Hernandez said when asked if he thinks Friday is the most realistic day for his activation from the disabled list and his season debut. "I think I'm almost ready. I've been doing everything, for the most part - throwing, running, playing catch, catching bullpens, and it doesn't bother me for that. I think hitting-wise, before it gets good, it's going to bother me a little bit, something very minimal. It's always going to go away when you start swinging, but that helps you get stronger."

Hernandez, who had only hit off a tee and done some soft toss, said he was nervous to take batting practice for the first time. He looked fine, taking all his rounds and spraying the ball around. Still, manager Sam Perlozzo sounded as though he'd like to give Hernandez one more day off and bring him back after tomorrow's day off. Perlozzo also didn't rule out Hernandez going on a one-day minor league rehabilitation assignment.

"It's just one more day," Perlozzo said. "We'll kind of have to see how he feels tomorrow. I am not sure whether we want to just let him get better and take the day off and come back Friday. We'll see how it goes."

Payton close to returning

Orioles outfielder Jay Payton, who hasn't played this season because of a strained left hamstring, got through six innings of an extended spring training game yesterday with no problems and will report to Triple-A Norfolk today to start a two-game rehab stint.

"I don't think he had to run at 100 percent, so he ran at 85, 90 percent," Perlozzo said. "He had no problems. As far as I know, he's scheduled to go ahead and go to rehab for a couple of days. If all goes well, he should join us Friday night."

Perlozzo anointed Payton his starting left fielder this spring, but he wouldn't commit to that yesterday. With Payton out, Kevin Millar and Jay Gibbons played nearly every day and were two of the Orioles' most productive hitters. Millar entered last night with a team-leading .308 average and a .440 on-base percentage. Gibbons was tied for third on the team with seven RBIs to go along with a .273 average, third best among regulars.

"It's not going to be an easy call," Perlozzo said. "We'll give people some days off and spread it out if we can. But Kevin has taken advantage of an opportunity."

Asked if Payton remains his left fielder, Perlozzo said: "I didn't say that. ... We'll see how he is. We want to make sure that he is good. He's going to be a little bit behind."

Millar trots anyway

Millar hit a soaring drive to left field in the fourth inning Monday that hit the catwalk that hangs high above the field and then bounced into foul territory.

While the umpires conferred on how to rule the play, Millar took a stroll around the bases, as if he had hit his third home run. It was eventually ruled a foul ball because the ground rules at Tropicana Field state "a batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk ... in fair territory, shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder."

"I had three different rulings in one at-bat," Millar said. "The first base umpire told me it was a foul ball. The home plate umpire told me to circle the bases, it is a home run. And the third base umpire told me it was a double. I didn't know where to go. I just ran because I was hoping it was going to be the home run."

Around the horn

The Orioles announced plans yesterday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier Saturday after the festivities were rained out Sunday. Corey Patterson will wear Robinson's No. 42 and the events originally scheduled to commemorate Robinson's achievements will go on as planned. ... Patterson, who is on the bereavement list, is expected to arrive in Florida less than two hours before today's game, but Perlozzo said whether he plays will be a game-time decision.

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