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Associated Press

Ken Griffey Jr.'s injured right knee is healing quickly and he could return to the field in 3-to-6 weeks, the Cincinnati Reds' team doctor said following a re-examination Wednesday.

There has been "vast improvement" in the knee since the All-Star center fielder partially tore the patella tendon and partially dislocated his kneecap during a rundown in Sunday's game against Montreal, Dr. Timothy Kremchek said.

"Junior has a full range of motion," Kremchek said. "I am convinced he is right on target to return in 3-to-6 weeks."

Griffey, who began twice-daily physical therapy sessions on Monday, was placed on the 15-day disabled list and stayed behind in Cincinnati as the Reds began a road trip in Pittsburgh.

Orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, a Reds consultant, examined a magnetic resonance imaging scan of Griffey's knee and concurred with Kremchek's diagnosis.

"I recommend Griffey let the injury heal without surgery," Andrews said.

The Reds are hoping Griffey can return with rest and rehab. If not, he would have to undergo surgery, which could sideline him for the rest of the season.

Ruben Mateo was called up from Triple-A Louisville to take Griffey's spot on the 25-man roster.

Griffey was bothered during spring training by tendinitis in the same knee.

Last year, Griffey missed most of the first three months because of a partially torn left hamstring.

The Reds also said infielder Juan Castro was playing his first game with Triple-A Louisville in Durham, N.C., on a medical rehabilitation assignment when he aggravated his strained left hamstring and left the game Wednesday.

Gonzalez to see hand specialist: Juan Gonzalez wasn't in the Texas lineup Wednesday night against Oakland and was to see a specialist about his injured right hand.

After taking some swings in the batting cage before the game, Gonzalez pointed to his right thumb and traced a line along the muscle there when asked what the problem was. The Rangers call it a deep bruise, and Gonzalez said he didn't expect to go on the disabled list.

Rangers spokesman John Blake said Gonzalez was scheduled to see a hand specialist Wednesday night. Blake didn't know when the team would have results from that exam.

After Gonzalez came out of Tuesday's game, he was taken to Arlington Memorial Hospital for X-rays, which were negative.

Gonzalez left the game against the Athletics after two innings. He reaggravated the injury during his only at-bat, an infield popout. Five days earlier, the two-time AL MVP left a game at Oakland in the ninth inning.

Gonzalez said he initially sustained the injury when he got jammed on a pitch last week in Oakland. He said the pain worsened after several more at-bats, including Tuesday against Barry Zito.

Through seven games in his return to Texas, Gonzalez is hitting .250 (6-for-24) with no homers and no RBIs.

Alou to go to Daytona for rehab: Chicago Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, on the disabled list with a strained right calf for the third year in a row, will go to Class-A Daytona this weekend for a rehabilitation assignment.

Alou wants some more at-bats before Monday, the first day he's eligible to come off the disabled list. He took batting practice for a second day Wednesday, and ran without any trouble.

"They gave me a choice, and I felt like it was a good idea since I didn't get that many at-bats in spring training," said Alou, who was sidelined for most of the spring with a strained muscle in his left side. "It's a mutual decision. I think I can use 10 at-bats."

He'll go to Daytona for Friday and Saturday's games. He'll then rejoin the Cubs and hopes to play Monday, when they open a three-game series against the Montreal Expos.

Alou began his career in Montreal, and his father, Felipe, was the longtime manager there.

Though there's artificial turf in Olympic Stadium, he's not worried about it causing problems for his calf.

"I played in Montreal for six years, and I came off the disabled list a few times there," he said. "I'll be careful about it."

The Cubs will make sure of that. They're struggling without Alou, who, along with Sammy Sosa and Fred McGriff, is expected to give Chicago one of the NL's most potent 3-4-5 lineups. The Cubs are hitting .221, and four of their five losses have been by two or fewer runs.

Alou, a career 306 hitter, batted .331 with 27 homers and 108 RBIS for the Astros last season.

"I'm anxious to be in the lineup, no matter if we get 20 hits or get no hits," said Alou, who signed a $27 million, three-year contract with the Cubs in the offseason. "I came here to play."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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