BALTIMORE (AP) -Jay Payton is finally ready to make his belated debut with the Baltimore Orioles.
Payton was activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday after being sidelined by a strained left hamstring. The injury occurred while he was running from second base to third in an exhibition game against Minnesota on March 26.
Payton signed a two-year contract with the Orioles in December and had an excellent spring training before the mishap. After going 2-for-8 in a two-game rehabilitation stint with Triple-A Norfolk, the outfielder joined the Orioles at Camden Yards for the start of a seven-game homestand.
``It's great. I was feeling good at the end of the spring right before I got hurt so it's just very disappointing not being able to start the season on time,'' he said. ``I'm just happy to be back here now. The guys have been playing pretty good baseball and I'm just hoping I can contribute and help us keep winning.''
Payton was not in the starting lineup for Friday night's game against Toronto.
``We'll work him in, make sure he's OK. But I don't think I'd hesitate if I need to use him today,'' Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. ``We've been waiting for him for a while. It's good to have him back.''
For Payton, it was like the season opener - without all the fanfare.
``It's a little different because it's a new team, a new organization I'm with, so in that respect it might feel a little bit like opening day for me, but it's just baseball,'' he said. ``I've been doing it for a long time now. So, it's just the same thing, different place.''
To make room for Payton, the Orioles optioned outfielder Jon Knott to Norfolk. Knott went 3-for-4 in two games; the outfielder hit his first big league homer as a pinch hitter and had two hits and scored twice as a starter against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
``I really enjoyed starting, getting to contribute the whole game,'' Knott said. ``I had a good time up here. Hopefully I can come back up and contribute. ... I'm just waiting for my chance.''
If nothing else, Knott made an impression on Perlozzo.
``The guy took advantage of an opportunity. He helped us win a game,'' the manager said. ``You look forward to seeing kids come up like that and produce for you.''
Now that they've got Payton back, the Orioles can turn their attention toward the long-awaited return of starting catcher Ramon Hernandez.
Hernandez has been on the disabled list since April 2 because of a strained muscle in his rib cage. He's been taking batting practice with the team, and is almost ready to stoop behind the plate.
``We'll evaluate him after today and decide if he just needs another BP day or needs a rehab assignment,'' Perlozzo said.

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