The Washington Times - July 23, 2011, 02:29PM

LOS ANGELES — When Dan Haren’s pitch collided with Jerry Hairston Jr.’s right wrist 3 1/2 weeks ago, while the utility man’s first concern was for his health, his second was for his swing.

Hairston, who has played third, left field, center field and second base this season for the Nationals, was on the hottest streak of the season at the plate. Before fracturing his wrist on June 29, Hairston was hitting . 458 in his last 12 games with a .567 on-base percentage. The power wasn’t prevalent (he had just two extra base hits and was slugging just .542) but there was no question he was settling in at the plate.

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The worst thing for him at that moment was an injury.

“When I got hurt, I was a little frustrated,” Hairston said. “Because I really felt something coming on.”

But Hairston’s been in the major leagues for a long time (this is 14th season as a member of a big league squad) so he adjusted. He tried to keep his frame of mind the same, even if his physical routine was not. 

The concerns, it seems, were overblown. Hairston has played in two games since returning from the disabled list on Monday. He started the game in left field on Tuesday and went 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and two RBI. He entered the game Friday night in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter for Roger Bernadina. All he did then was hit a game-breaking grand slam in the ninth inning to allow the Nationals to (finally) cruise to a victory.

“I look at Jerry Hairston as being more my left fielder,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson explained. “I know he’s played some center but I didn’t want to weaken my defense that much. But I said, ‘Heck, I’m trying to score. What am I thinking about over here? Go on, Jerry, I know it’s late but get on up there.’

“He had a good at-bat and then a big one later on.”

Hairston now has the second-highest batting average (.272) on the team with the eighth-most plate appearances (225). He’s also been indispensable as a defensive replacement for when Ryan Zimmerman was lost for roughly two months and to spare someone like Laynce Nix late in games when his Achilles acts up. For a guy the Nationals signed in January on a one-year, $2 million deal, that’s a pretty hefty contribution.

“I just worked really hard to try and stay in that frame of mind (from before I was hurt),” Hairston said. “Even though I wasn’t playing, just try to feel the same way. I basically feel the same way, swinging-the-bat-wise, anyway, so hopefully keep it going.”