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Wilson could return this weekend

Wilson could return this weekend

PITTSBURGH -- Jumpin' Jack Flash hasn't had a chance to do any jumpin' at PNC Park yet this season. If all goes well during a short stint with Double-A Altoona, he might finally get a chance sooner, rather than later.

Shortstop Jack Wilson was in the Pirates' clubhouse Thursday and early Friday after playing a game in Akron on Thursday morning as a member of the Altoona Curve, and before playing for the Curve again Friday night.

Wilson, who injured his left calf during the first series of the season in Atlanta and has been on the disabled list since, said Thursday that he planned to be back in uniform for the start of the Pirates' road trip to Cincinnati on Tuesday. The team's first home game after that is June 3.

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Pirates manager John Russell indicated Friday that he believes Wilson could be back before the end of this weekend's three-game series against the Cubs at PNC Park -- assuming all went well with his rehabilitation game Friday night in Altoona.

"Once he finishes that, he's going to call us and let us know how he feels, and hopefully he'll be back in the next few days," Russell said. "We're looking anywhere from [Saturday] to Tuesday, in that time frame [if there are no other setbacks]. It depends on how it feels and him being able to play nine innings, and there being no repercussions from it."

The weather finally warming up should aid Wilson's quest. It was 38 degrees Thursday in Akron for first pitch at 10:30 a.m. -- not exactly conducive to healing a strained muscle.

Russell said that, health-wise, the calf is healed and it's not a matter of Wilson feeling any pain or soreness during or after a game. Wilson and the Pirates coaches and trainers want to ensure the shortstop is as close to playing shape as possible, and as close to 100 percent, midseason form as possible.

"We want him to feel comfortable, that's the biggest thing," Russell said. "When a guy comes back, he knows he's not going to be 100 percent Major League ready. It's like when you come out of Spring Training, you feel as ready as can be. You've got to go play a Major League game, so there's another adjustment period.

"We just want to make sure he doesn't get into a situation where he can't make plays or feels so out-of-whack at the plate he becomes a non-factor. I think it's a little bit of a pride thing for him. He wants to be as close as he can get."

When Wilson does return, no doubt he will be welcomed. A lifetime .268 hitter who plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, the Pirates have struggled at the shortstop position without him.

Three players have spelled him at times -- Luis Rivas, Chris Gomez and Brian Bixler. Rivas is a second baseman by trade, Gomez hasn't played shortstop regularly in four years, and Bixler is a rookie. Rivas and Gomez have combined to hit below .200.

"Jack has been out so long that you kind of forgot about him, but you realize how much you miss him out there," outfielder Jason Bay said. "And that's no slight to the guys who have gone out there [as replacements]; they did a great job. [But] he shores up the middle of that defense, and he's a big part of the team."

While Russell would not say with any certainty whose roster spot Wilson would take when he again became active, the smart money is on Bixler -- a prospect Russell hinted at.

"Brian Bixler needs to play baseball," Russell said. "He's a big part of our future. Whether that's the move or not, we'll talk about it. But right now, on paper, that's probably the most logical move. We'll sit down with [general manager Neal Huntington] and talk about it."

On another injury front, catcher Ryan Doumit continues to progress better than initially anticipated from a fractured left thumb he sustained on May 13.

Doumit, initially expected to be out at least four weeks, has indicated that he could be back as soon as next week. Russell said that Doumit would start some hitting off a tee and soft tossing Saturday, and that Doumit already had been doing some catching drills with tennis balls.

"We got good news from the doctor," Russell said. "It healed in a way that looks like it could be quicker rather than the opposite direction. We just have to see how Mother Nature continues to progress with it. Right now, it's looking pretty good. We'll see ... if he can get over those hurdles he has to get over to get back."

Chris Adamski is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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