LAKEWOOD, N.J. - To most Phillies fans, minor-league rehab assignments are little more than one of the game's mundane necessities.
But for the minor-league club and its followers, the appearance of a popular big-leaguer generates a heightened sense of anticipation.
So there was some extra wattage Saturday night at quaint FirstEnergy Park - as well as boosted attendance - when Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino stepped into the box to lead off for the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws in his first plate appearance since May 17, a day before he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring.
After his first rehab assignment, in which he flied out, walked, singled, and scored two runs in three at-bats, Victorino was clearly pleased with the way things went.
Although he didn't get to test the hamstring while playing center field for five innings, he appeared to be running at close to full speed when he lashed a grounder down the right-field line in the third inning and thought about stretching it into a double before pulling up.
"On that base hit I went, and there's not much harder I could go," Victorino said. "I was going to go to second, but the guy's throw shut me down. In that regard, it was pretty much all I had. But I want to see about stealing a base and running and catching some fly balls. The game dictates what I can do. I can only trust my instincts. I felt great. Nothing happened tonight, so it's a step in the right direction."
Victorino suffered the injury May 14 in Atlanta. He sat out the next two games, then put down a sacrifice bunt as a pinch-hitter May 17 at St. Louis and hobbled toward first base. The following day, he had an MRI exam and was put on the DL. Although he said he didn't aggravate the injury in the pinch-hit role, it may have delayed his return because he couldn't begin the DL stint retroactively to the date of the injury.
In his first at-bat, Victorino jogged toward first base on a fly out. In his second at-bat, a walk, he easily scored from second on a hit and pushed it fairly hard rounding third.
"That's one step in a positive direction for me, and I felt good about that, pushing myself," he said. "But that running to first base really hard [on his single] and running toward second, it felt really good."
This was the first of a scheduled five-game rehab for Victorino. He is expected to play seven innings Sunday, take Monday off, then play at double-A Reading on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. If all goes well, he'll be activated Friday, the first day he's eligible to come off the DL.
Victorino was batting .284 with six home runs and 19 RBIs before he got hurt.
"It felt great to get those three at-bats," he said. "I'm feeling good and that's the most important thing."
Barring other injuries, the Phillies will be at full strength for the first time this season when Victorino returns.