Kearns to start rehab assignment, hopes to rejoin Nats next week

WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Austin Kearns is expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday with hopes of returning to the team late next week.

Kearns went on the disabled list May 22 and had surgery to clean out bone fragments in his right elbow. He'll go to Class A Hagerstown and later move to Triple-A Columbus while trying to get ready for Washington's four-game series in Cincinnati that begins July 3.

"I'm just trying to get out there and work on timing," Kearns said. "It's been a while. I'm just trying to get some reps."

Kearns said his elbow is fine for throwing, but manager Manny Acta said the outfielder should handle designated hitter chores at Hagerstown before moving on to Columbus.

"He's making progress," Acta said.

Kearns was struggling this season, batting .187 with three homers and 16 RBI in his first 42 games.

In other injury news, pitcher Shawn Hill had his troublesome right arm examined at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and doctors found no structural damage.

According to a team spokesman, Hill had a bone scan and MRI, and doctors attribute his continual pain to irritation of his forearm muscles. They're prescribing rest and rehabilitation for Hill, who gave up eight runs in three innings during Tuesday's 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

A trip to the disabled list appears likely for Hill, who has battled arm problems the last few years. Odalis Perez, who has been on the DL since June 11 with tendinitis in his left shoulder, is scheduled to start Friday against Baltimore and will likely take Hill's roster spot.

Hill is 1-5 with a 5.83 ERA in 12 starts.

Injuries have hampered the Nationals, who currently have seven players on the disabled list.

"We're banged up, but we're not making excuses," Acta said. "Things are going to happen. We've just got to keep working hard."

Acta also said that Paul Lo Duca could play Wednesday after coming out of Tuesday's game in the second inning complaining of feeling dizzy and lightheaded.

Lo Duca was taken to Sibley Hospital for a series of tests. He received intravenous fluids and was released. He thought the problems might have had something to do with food poisoning, but doctors didn't say that for sure.

Acta didn't put Lo Duca in the starting lineup Wednesday, but he was available to help off the bench.

"He obviously was dehydrated, and he's feeling better. He looks a little pale to me, but I think he's fine now," Acta said.