ST. PETERSBURG -- Ramon Hernandez took plenty of time making his clubhouse rounds Tuesday, sporting a big smile as teammates and coaches alike welcomed him back. For Hernandez, who hasn't played this season because of a strained left oblique muscle, it seemed as if he'd been gone forever.

"I don't feel much, really," Hernandez said shortly before joining Baltimore for batting practice. "I think [Wednesday], after I start playing and swinging, I may feel something at first when it goes and builds up again, but I think it's almost ready."

The Orioles put their starting catcher on the disabled list April 7, a move retroactive to March 31, which made him eligible to be activated on Sunday. Hernandez said he's had about two weeks of minimal pain in the muscle, but manager Sam Perlozzo thought it better to play it safe.

"It's just one more day," Perlozzo said. "We'll ease him into this, [with batting practice]. We kind of have to see how he feels [Wednesday], whether we'll let him get better and take the day off and come back Friday, or what. We'll just have to wait and see.

"We certainly don't want to [rush it]. It's not a night game [Wednesday]; it's a day game. He might be a little bit sore after batting practice, so one more game is not going to kill us. We just want to make sure he's ready to roll."

Hernandez, who had career highs in games (144), hits (138), doubles (29), homers (23) and RBIs (91) last season, his first with Baltimore, said he'd return Friday at the earliest.

Perlozzo added that he'd be open to the possibility of sending Hernandez to play in a Minor League game or two if the catcher would be more comfortable, although he'd prefer Hernandez stay with the Orioles. Hernandez, in turn, said he thought the muscle would "get fixed up quicker" at the Major League level than in the Minors.

In Sarasota, Fla., Hernandez said he'd been throwing, running, playing catch and catching bullpen sessions, but he had just begun hitting soft-toss and off of a tee over the last two days. He was nervous, he admitted, but optimistic to see how he'd feel a day after taking live batting practice.

"I've been doing everything for the most part," Hernandez said. "I think hitting-wise before it gets good it's always going to be one little bother, something very minimal. It's always going to go away once you start swinging, because it gets stronger."

Also nearing return: Corey Patterson, who went on bereavement leave last week after the death of his grandfather, will rejoin the Orioles in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. The only issue which may keep the starting center fielder out of the lineup lies in Patterson's flight, which lands in Tampa, a city located half an hour north of St. Petersburg, about 90 minutes prior to the 3:10 p.m. ET game time. Perlozzo said the decision of whether Patterson will play will be a game-time decision.

Elsewhere, left fielder Jay Payton played six innings and took four at-bats during an extended Spring Training game in Sarasota, and he reported no pain in the left hamstring that had hobbled him since the end of Spring Training.

"I don't think he had to run 100 percent; it was more like 85-90 percent," Perlozzo said. "But he had no problems, so as far as I know, he's scheduled to go on rehab for a couple of days."

If all goes according to plan, Payton will play two games at Triple-A Norfolk and then join the Orioles at Camden Yards on Friday.

And then what? With Payton's impending return, how will the lineup be affected? Previously, it was assumed that designated hitter/first baseman Kevin Millar would lose a few at-bats, but Millar's been making such a strong case with his bat (.308 average, four doubles, two home runs, four RBIs, 10 walks) that it's such a difficult decision that Perlozzo wouldn't even confirm Payton would return to left field.

"He is a left fielder," Perlozzo said, "and a center fielder. We'll see how he is. He's going to be a little bit behind.

"It's not going to be an easy call, but we'll take it a day at a time and see where our pitching matchups are and try to move everybody in again. Kevin's taking advantage of an opportunity, and thank goodness, we needed it bad along the way there."

Did you know? The Orioles rallied from a 7-1 deficit to win Monday night's 9-7 game at Tampa Bay, their largest comeback margin since May 17, 2005, when they scored six to beat Kansas City, 12-8. Baltimore's biggest deficit overcome, eight runs, was in an 11-10 win over Boston on Sept. 12, 1956.

He said it: "That's nice. It took me a long enough time. I'd rather the next 100 be a little bit quicker." -- Perlozzo, on reaching the 100-win milestone on Monday

Up next: Baltimore will conclude its three-game set against Tampa Bay with a 3:10 p.m. ET finale on Wednesday before enjoying an off-day. Left-hander Erik Bedard (2-1, 5.09 ERA) is slated to get the ball for the Orioles, and the Rays will send southpaw Scott Kazmir (1-1, 4.95 ERA) to oppose him.