SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Barry Bonds could return to the San Francisco Giants’ lineup as soon as Saturday, though the star slugger suspects his doctors will ask him to wait at least one more day for his first appearance of the season.

Bonds went through his fifth straight day of on-field workouts Friday, taking early batting practice and running in the outfield before the Giants’ game against the Chicago Cubs. The 41-year-old outfielder is pleasantly encouraged by his progress in recent days, but can’t commit to a definite return date until a Saturday morning conversation with Dr. Lewis Yocum.

“If I just had to take a hunch, a guess, it won’t be (Saturday),” Bonds said while seated in his black leather recliner in the San Francisco clubhouse, reading a newspaper and elevating his legs.

“I thought I would be a lot more sore, thought I’d have a lot harder time than I have. I’m pleased, because I’m not really that sore.”

In the final stages of his rehabilitation from three knee surgeries since Jan. 31, Bonds is scheduled to take a rest from his daily workout schedule Saturday – but he still could play if Yocum gives his approval.

Bonds would prefer to play in the outfield in his first game back, rather than simply appearing as a pinch-hitter, but he’ll leave that decision to manager Felipe Alou. If Yocum believes Bonds can handle the rigors of playing the outfield and running the bases on his repaired knee, Bonds is ready to try.

“I’m just as nervous as anybody, thinking about, Am I going to be able to make it the whole game?”‘ Bonds said. “With my luck, I’d get four balls hit to me and I’d be waving that white flag and going, Enough, enough!”‘

The slugger’s famous swing seems completely intact, judging by the fierce line drives and homers he has hit during batting practice this week. With 703 homers, Bonds trails only Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) on baseball’s career list.

Yocum is unlikely to allow Bonds to play in poor weather, and San Francisco has been cold and cloudy all week, with the gloom expected to last through the weekend. Bonds, who’s been doing his rehab work in sunny Los Angeles for most of the summer, wasn’t thrilled by the chill.

“The Giants are going to have to get better heaters in their dugout,” he said, only half-joking. “If they don’t, I don’t know how much I’m going to be out there. That’s the truth.”

Bonds plans to ride an exercise bike or stretch between innings to keep his legs loose when he returns.

Right-hander Mark Prior is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Saturday, and left-hander Glendon Rusch will go Sunday. The Giants host the San Diego Padres on Monday.

AP-ES-09-09-05 2126EDT


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