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Kearns bides time in Hagerstown

June 27, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

For Austin Kearns, it's all about timing.

That's why the Washington Nationals outfielder was at Municipal Stadium on Thursday.

Kearns started his two-day stint with the Hagerstown Suns to begin the process of getting back on the Nationals' active roster. The right fielder is rehabilitating after having bone chips removed from his right elbow in May.

Kearns was the designated hitter and batted third for the Suns against the Delmarva Shorebirds. He is scheduled to do the same in today's game.

"I'm just here to get some at-bats and face some live pitching," Kearns said. "It is a lot different than batting practice to face someone putting it in there."

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Thursday's game was Kearns first game action since the surgery. He had been traveling with the Nationals during interleague play and hitting in the batting cage.

His health is a major concern to the Nationals' ownership and front office. So much so, 17 members of Washington's administration, including owner Mark Lerner, team president Stan Kasten and assistant general manager Bob Boone, were in attendance for the game.

"I just want to get in the box and see some pitching," Kearns said.

Kearns is the first notable major leaguer to be put on a rehab assignment at Municipal Stadium since the early 1990s when Hagerstown was still part of the Baltimore Orioles farm system. Brady Anderson, Steve Finley and Glenn Davis were sent here when the Suns were a Double-A team.

Kearns hasn't been in Single-A since 2000, when he played for Dayton in the Cincinnati organization. Hagerstown is a far cry from the hustle and bustle that surround game day in the majors.

"It's always fun to come down to this level," Kearns said. "I have had rehab assignments before. It's fun to see some of the guys who are coming up and that you have heard of. It doesn't matter. I'm just here to work."

Kearns got to Hagerstown around 3 p.m. and had a therapy session with the trainer. He took batting practice with the Suns before taking the field with them for pregame stretching.

In the game, Kearns went 0-for-2 with a walk and scored a run.

After his two days in Hagerstown, Kearns will spend some time with Triple-A Columbus. If all goes well, the plan is to activate him next weekend when the Nationals play in Cincinnati.

Kearns started his major league career with the Reds in 2002. He was traded in 2006 to Washington along with former Sun Felipe Lopez. He has been the Nationals' starting right fielder since, signing a three-year deal in 2007.

Kearns, in his sixth season, has a .261 career batting average with 98 home runs and 389 RBIs. He struggled this season because of the injury, hitting .187 with three homers and 16 RBIs.

When he returns, he will be part of the Nationals' crowded outfield, which includes Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena. All three have been acquired by the Nationals to upgrade the position.

But everything will take care of itself for Kearns once he gets back.

"It feels a lot better than before," Kearns said. "I look forward to getting back on the field. I enjoy the grind. I don't like having any time off."

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